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Our Opinion: Valley sucked into energy mess

February 10, 2001

While it looked for awhile that the Imperial Valley was pretty well protected from the energy crisis plaguing the rest of the state, more and more we are being brought into and down by the power fiasco.

It seems while we in isolated, poor Imperial County often aren't allowed to share in the bounty of Golden State good times, we always are forced to share the pain in California's bad times.

The fact that the Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies power to Imperial Valley residents, is off the statewide power grid appears to be a good thing for our area. Because it is off the grid and because IID has its own power-generation plants and independent pacts for energy supplies, we have not had to participate in rolling blackouts or drastic energy-conservation measures that have confronted most of the rest of the state in recent weeks.

Yet we are being affected by the energy mess. CalEnergy, which is the major geothermal company in the Imperial Valley and a big employer here, is not getting paid by its main customer, Southern California Edison. Edison is getting pounded in the post-deregulation energy world and is on the verge of bankruptcy.

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Edison not paying CalEnergy could cause a domino effect around the Imperial Valley. While the first domino has fallen — those who hold leases on land on which geothermal plants are operated are not being paid — other dominos could fall if Edison doesn't start paying its bills soon. Fortunately, CalEnergy's parent company, which reports it otherwise is in sound financial condition, has been able to keep creating energy without making any drastic cuts in operations or personnel, but Edison must pay its bills posthaste or bad things could happen here. And if the geothermal industry takes a hit, so does the entire Imperial Valley.

That the state took away $200 million set aside to line the All-American Canal to deal with the energy crisis was bad enough news. The canal lining is crucial to dealing with water issues in the West, and a whole set of water deals could fall through if the canal is not lined. If the water deals collapse, they could collapse right on the shoulders of the Imperial Valley.

We are convinced in the long run water issues will prove more vexing to California than power issues, and taking away the canal lining money is short-sighted unless it is short-term. The money must be restored as soon as possible.

So we don't live in a vacuum in the Imperial Valley, despite the frequent appearances of such. When a crisis hits California, it hits the entire state. We certainly know that now.

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