Some 100 megawatts of electricity are expected to flow to San Diego from the Calexico area later this year as the Mt. Signal Solar Project nears full commercial operation.
Officials at Wednesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking touted the project’s anticipated benefits.
Tom Buttgenbach, president of 8minutenergy Renewables, a developer of the project, said this is the first time that a solar power plant produces electricity significantly lower in price than energy produced by fossil fuels.
“We need these large projects to drive these costs down,” he said.
Indeed, the first phase of the solar farm is being built on about 1,900 acres near Calexico on farmland that has been converted for solar energy use. When completed, some 3.1 million photovoltaic solar panels will cover about 4,500 acres of land. It is expected to create about 950 jobs at peak construction. It is expected to deliver 200 megawatts of electricity to San Diego Gas & Electric upon completion in the first half of 2014.
Much of the solar energy activity on the south end of the Valley is made possible by the Sunrise Powerlink, a 117-mile, 500,000-volt transmission line that connects San Diego to the Imperial Valley, a project that was not without controversy.
Local farmers have been vocal in their opposition of farmland being converted for other uses.
And, because many of the solar energy projects near Mt. Signal bypass the Imperial Irrigation District’s grid — while crossing the Westside Main Canal to connect to the Imperial Valley Substation — the district is considering a partial participating transmission ownership status with the California Independent System Operators as a means to maintain its balancing authority.
Imperial County Supervisor Ray Castillo alluded to some of this controversy. He said he remembers topping carrots in farm fields years ago that now serve as solar farms. He acknowledged the agricultural community’s objection to farmland being used for other purposes, adding that “in the end it will be a plus-plus for everybody.”
Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors President Matt Dessert touched on some of the controversy as well.
“There was lots of consternation and discussion, but here we are. The staff of the IID has learned so much, from water displacement to interconnection,” he said.
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org