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Imperial County Supervisors Support Geothermal Projects in The Salton Sea Area


The Imperial County Board of Supervisors met at its regular meeting July 25 to approve a letter to the California Energy Commission expressing support for three Geothermal Projects in the Salton Sea Area, thus expanding their renewable energy portfolio. 

On April 18, 2023, BHE Renewables LLC submitted an application for certification request to the California Energy Commission for the following geothermal projects: Black Rock, Elmore North, and Morton Bay.

The Black Rock Geothermal Plant is an 87-megawatt (gross) and 77-megawatt (net) renewable geothermal power plant. The Elmore North Geothermal Plant is 157 megawatts (gross) and 140 megawatts (net) renewable geothermal power plant. The Morton Bay Geothermal Plant is a 157-megawatt (gross) and 140-megawatt (net) renewable geothermal power plant. 

The three proposed projects will provide an efficient method to satisfy two of California’s most important energy needs by providing firm, clean power, and a renewable geothermal source to meet the State’s grid reliability needs while assisting the State’s transition to a 100 percent renewable energy and zero-carbon grid by 2045. The projects will also provide jobs, tax revenues, and investment in Imperial County, one of the poorest counties in the state.

“Imperial County strongly supports the development of geothermal power stations because they provide clean, base-load in California, while also providing an economic benefit to the community where they are located. This is due to the living wage jobs and property tax revenues that they provide. 

Moreover, the fluid from the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resources Area used in these specific power facilities contains many critical minerals, including lithium, which if captured, can provide even greater significant economic benefit and job to Imperial County,” Supervisor Ryan Kelley said.

If Imperial County led the permitting process of these facilities, there are specific issues that Imperial County would expect to be addressed beyond the standard land use and environmental review, Kelley added. Imperial County asks the California Energy Commission to consider, in particular, the following.

1. Fiscal Analysis-A fiscal analysis that evaluates economic impacts on Imperial County is important as the location where the activity will occur. The County would expect such a study to include impacts on infrastructure and impacts to governance costs with increased population.

2. Sales Tax Impacts-Provisions maximizing sales tax credited to Imperial County is appropriate as it is the central location where the tax will be generated. Imperial County established a policy applicable to projects developed in the county to require, to the maximum extent possible, the purchase of products in Imperial County or purchase items so that the use of sales tax is credited to Imperial County as the generating source of the taxable activity.

3. Agricultural Land Impacts-Preservation of statewide importance and prime agricultural lands are important where reasonably possible; however, this area and resource are critical to Imperial County’s geothermal overlay. Imperial County is actively working on a programmatic environmental impact report that would result in geothermal and lithium recovery facilities being exempt from the migration of prime statewide importance agricultural lands. Imperial County requests similar treatment of these projects under the California Environmental Quality Act review process. Imperial County has significant experience in balancing geothermal power facility development and land preservation.

The Imperial County Supervisors’ support for the Geothermal Projects in the Salton Sea Area marks a pivotal move towards clean energy expansion and economic growth. These proposed geothermal power plants not only address California’s energy needs but also offer potential benefits like job creation, tax revenues, and access to critical minerals. As the county advocates for responsible development, it strives to strike a balance between progress and preserving its valuable geothermal resources. This initiative sets a positive example for other regions looking to transition towards sustainable and renewable energy solutions.

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