An environmental consultant will be chosen within the next few weeks to conduct a master Environmental Impact Report for Imperial County, which would start the process of determining the best places locally for renewable energy.
The Imperial County received a $700,000 grant earlier this year from the California Energy Commission allowing it to work on two things: a general plan for the county and an EIR.
A master EIR, like the one planned for the county, will change some of the rules for building a new project. Rather than an EIR for the area, it can be tailored to specific projects, which will help facilitate the development of new renewable energy projects in the county, said Deputy Executive Officer for Natural Resources Department Andy Horne.
“This will certainly give developers a better road map on where projects can be located,” he said. “The goal is to build without affecting agriculture and potentially resolve issues with the Salton Sea” with its depleting resources.
Currently, the state requires that 33 percent of all energy come from a renewable source. The state is looking to change that percentage to as high as 50 percent, said Chairman of the Board Ray Castillo.
“We’re going to see a lot more interest in renewable,” should the state take that action, he said.
Jim Minnick, assistant director at Imperial County Planning and Development Services, said, “The idea is to get yourself ahead of the game” by finding more renewable energy areas now.
Instead of waiting for the required percentage to rise, Minnick said, “We can refine our ordinances and better prepare for the future.”
Castillo said much of the grant money will go toward energy consultants who will determine what land will best be used for renewable energy projects including geothermal, solar and wind.
The Salton Sea is an area with high geothermal potential, Horne said. “We’re going to take a real hard look at the Salton Sea … this is an area we’ll need additional resources and help with.”
IID Energy Assistant Juan Carlos Sandoval said the IID has been participating in putting together the transmission plant in order to help meet the state-wide goal of using 33 percent of renewable resources for energy.
“We have been supportive of the development of renewable energy,” Sandoval said. “We’ve been very active in coming up with plans for renewable energy projects.”
The Imperial County was not the only one to receive the grant money. A total of $3.4 million was granted to five counties that applied in April.
Although the Imperial County applied and was awarded grant money, the application period was less than 45 days, so many did not make the cut off period, Horne said.
About $3.6 million ended up leftover from the lack of applications. Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, helped create AB 1060 to extend the program until June 30, 2014, in order to distribute the rest of the funding.
More counties are expected to apply for this money because the deadline is said to be longer than before, Horne said. The dates for the second application have not yet been released.
Although it will be more competitive, Horne said in the first round Imperial County received a score of 97 of 100, the highest score of everyone who applied.