Green Light for 170-MW Solar Project in Imperial County

A turbine at Altamont Pass in Northern California | Photo: Lance Cheung/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The 170-megawatt Centinela Solar Energy Project in Imperial County passed a hurdle this week: Developer LS Power announced that it had procured funding for the project, planned for construction on 1,600 acres of farmland about 20 miles west of Calexico and just north of the Mexican border. The project has been a source of controversy in Imperial County, pitting renewable energy advocates against others concerned about the conversion of farmland to other uses.

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LS Power, which owns a number of gas-fired power plants and transmission lines nationwide, acquired long-term financing for Centinela from Prudential Capital Group, as well as further aid from a consortium of lenders for shorter-term needs. The Fluor Corporation will be building the project.

When completed in 2014, the Centinela Solar Energy Project will sell its power to San Diego Gas & Electric, whose recently completed Sunrise Powerlink transmission line will convey the power from the Imperial Valley to the coast.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors took some heat from farmers for approving the project late last year. The board had to strip three parcels within the project from Williamson Act protection. That act, formally known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, offers contracts to owners of agricultural land under which the landowners get property tax breaks in exchange for agreeing not to develop their land.

This week LS Power made a $1.7 million payment into Imperial County's newly established solar public benefit fund, established to accept voluntary payments by developers to mitigate impact of solar development to the county's agricultural sector. The county hasn't yet appointed an advisory committee to administer the fund.

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