Calexico High School’s Advanced Auto Shop Class and its pioneering work building electric vehicles made a major impression on a group of state officials and energy experts touring Imperial County recently, on hand to visit sites related to renewable energy.
As 20 or so students in blue coveralls worked on a lead-acid battery-powered EV, instructor Keith Fisher spoke to a group of nearly 40 high-level visitors. He explained that this was the second cohort of students to construct an EV car, as he showed in real-time the bridge between Career-Technical Education programs and the future of the state’s workforce.
Fisher also took an opportunity to make a pitch for more EV-related support for his students’ education and his school district in the form of a lithium-ion battery-powered car, EV charger and more, and this was the crowd to do it in front of.
Among those dazzled by the presentation was California Energy Commission Chairperson David Hochschild.
“What we saw today is like seed planting for the clean energy future that we’re trying to build here,” Hochschild said. “We want the lithium produced here, we want the batteries produced here. We want the vehicles produced here, with the jobs here. And the training programs. You know, that’s one of the critical pieces of the puzzle.
“If you think about the supply chain, there’s a lot we’re trying to bring back, domestically, back to California from places like China, but also one of the critical pieces of the supply chain is trained labor, skilled labor. So, it’s great to see that (Calexico High class), really inspiring and, I’m hoping we just keep the momentum going,” Hochschild added.
State Sen. Steve Padilla, D-Chula Vista, who has had a hand in the legislation that will move electrification forward in California, was equally impressed with the young Bulldogs and the school’s auto shop program.
“It was awesome. It was a really great opportunity to be able to chat with them personally and ask them, ‘you know, how many of you are thinking about moving forward with your education in this area, or working in the industry?’ The conversion (to all EVs) isn’t going to happen without the minds and the hearts and the hands of people who have the right skill training and the right access to help make this conversion happen, so it’s pretty inspiring,” Padilla said.
In a morning dedicated to having a conversation about the Imperial Valley’s place in the electrification of California and the challenges of EV and transmission infrastructure throughout the cities and county, Comite Civico del Valle, Inc., arranged a tour on Friday, Jan. 20, that included members of the California Energy Commission, including Hochschild and Commissioner Patty Monahan, Sen. Padilla and his staff, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s staff, a representative from the California Natural Resources Agency, members of several organized labor groups, those experienced in power transmission and EV parts procurement, local elected officials, social and environmental justice leaders, and university students.
“For us, Calexico High School is where all of this starts. We wanted to see these young men and women in the auto shop program learning to work on the technology that will dominate our roadways in the near future.
All new vehicles sold in California by 2035 are going to be EVs and some of the remaining gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks are going to be looking for conversion kits. It’s youths like these who will be maintaining and retrofitting. So, what better place to start this tour?” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle.
“But we also wanted to ensure our invited guests got a flavor for the challenges we’re facing to meet the demands of a green future. Our project to install 40 EV chargers throughout the Imperial and Coachella valleys is already hitting some stumbling blocks. We are ready to work, but parts procurement is nearly impossible, and it’s slowing similar EV charger projects across the state.
“Frankly, it’s a dire situation threatening the progress of greenhouse-gas-reduction measures up and down California, but more so for impoverished communities of color,” he said. “We communicated that when urban centers with high-dollar EVs need chargers and related equipment, those communities tend to get preferential treatment. We need help to bring equity to electrification.”
Some of that discussion came at the corner of Heber Avenue and Third Street in Calexico, where Mayor Pro Tem Raul Ureña and City Council member Gloria Romo welcomed the group on the prospective site of a Level 3 EV Charging Station to be installed in a partnership between the city of Calexico and Comite Civico del Valle.
The tour wrapped up with a visit to San Diego State-Imperial Valley’s Brawley Innovation District. Yet to break ground, SDSU-IV officials from the Mesa in San Diego and local Dean Guillermina Gina Nuñez-Mchiri welcomed the group and briefly explained the plans for the $80 million allocated by the state to turn the Northend campus into a state-of-the-art STEM center specializing in renewable energy and able to capitalize on the proximity to the lithium-extraction industry.
CEC Chair Hochschild said he ended the tour excited and enthusiastic by the will he is seeing in Imperial County among various groups to embrace a clean energy future.
“Every big change is hard, and so the thing that helps make big changes possible is when people feel the fire in the belly to make it happen. And so, it’s great to feel that not just from the students, but from the community groups here, from local government, and, you know, we share that passion at the state level,” Hochschild said.
“I think one thing that’s different now that we haven’t had before is, we have for the first time really robust federal tax credits, ten-year tax credits to support electric vehicles, energy storage, solar, wind, geothermal, electric heat pump technology, even lithium production.” He continued. “So those incentives, which are part of the (federal) Inflation Reduction Act are going to be a big help. I think California would be the single biggest beneficiary of all those tax codes.”
From a policy standpoint, Padilla, who only recently became Imperial County’s legislator, said he is committed to protecting the area’s interest based on past history with speculation.
“There is great potential here. And there is a great reason for everyone to be excited and focused about what that can mean for our conversion to a clean energy future, to building infrastructure and job opportunities around critical elements that are needed, not just here, but around the world,” Padilla said.
“But it’s important that we do it right. And it’s important for me that the community benefits because this part of the state has a long history of having the next best thing come along every couple of decades. And people make their money and leave and (don’t) leave much behind in the community,” he said. “And that is where my focus is going to be in representing this community is making sure that that does not happen again as a byproduct of the next best thing.”