News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Imperial County Transmission Project OK'd for 'Area of Critical Environmental Concern'

Near the proposed Campo Verde gen-tie line | BLM Photo

The Interior Department approved two possible routes Wednesday across protected public lands for a 230-kilovolt radial generation tie line -- commonly called a "gen-tie line" -- that would connect the 139-megawatt Campo Verde Solar Project to San Diego Gas & Electric's Imperial Valley Substation. Campo Verde, a project of First Solar, is slated for 1,443 acres of private agricultural land near the Imperial County town of Seeley.

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Each of the two possible routes for Campo Verde's Gen-Tie line would cross public land, which triggered federal environmental assessment of the cumulative impacts of the entire project. The .9-mile primary alternative crosses .4 miles of public land: the secondary alternative would be one mile long, 90% of that on public land. The total public land area affected is 17 acres.

All of the public land affected by the project lies within the Yuha Basin Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), designated by the BLM to protect the land's biological and cultural resources. The gen-tie project may damage habitat for burrowing owls and flat-tailed horned lizards. The developers will be protecting other habitat as compensation.

A 230 kilovolt line gives significantly more transmission capacity than the Campo Verde project would need on its own. According to the gen-tie line's environmental assessment, First Solar offered to build the line to carry additional power to be generated by nearby renewable power generating facilities that may be built in the future. And so though 17 acres may not seem like a big deal, the project may well help change the face of the east edges of the Yuha Desert. With First Solar building gen-tie capacity for them, new solar developers have additional incentive to build near Seeley and the Yuha Basin ACEC.

When completed, the Campo Verde gen-tie line will connect the solar facility with SDG&E's Southwest Powerlink. The utility has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with First Solar. The solar project is expected to create 5-7 permanent jobs.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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