Among the 59 bills signed into law last week at the end of the state's legislative session were one that will add San Luis Obispo County to a group of counties getting special help from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to build utility-scale solar power projects and one that will make it easier to refine useful chemicals from geothermal waste brine.
Assembly Bill 2161, written by Central Coast assembly member Katcho Achadjian, would make SLO County eligible for part of a $7 million fund set aside by the CEC to help counties develop or revise policies and permitting procedures for development of renewable energy facilities and transmission lines.
The counties previously covered by the fund were Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare. The portions of those counties that occupy either California's deserts or the sunny San Joaquin Valley have been the focus of much interest by solar and wind developers, which is why they were singled out. But two large solar projects have been approved in San Luis Obispo County's Coast Ranges backcountry in the last two years. The County wants to do more, but according to Achadjian's office new development had been "hampered by outdated plans, policies and rules" before the Assembly member's bill became law.
V. Manuel Perez's Assembly Bill 2205 also got the governor's signature last week. The bill would keep geothermal energy companies from having to seek permits from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for extracting, refining and selling valuable materials in their geothermal brine. A number of geothermal plants are in Perez's Salton Basin district. Geothermal steam, when it emerged from the earth, carries with it a range of dissolved minerals. Some of them are potentially quite valuable. The firm Simbol Materials is proposing to extract lithium, lithium carbonate, and other minerals vital to renewable energy applications such as batteries from geothermal brine in Imperial County. The new law removes a potential regulatory barrier to that extraction.