Viewpoints

August 2, 2014

Viewpoints: Geothermal energy could help land Tesla ‘Gigafactory’

Senate bill could be an incentive to put battery plant in Imperial Valley.

Chevron, eBay and Toyota are just three companies that have left California for Texas, taking hundreds of jobs with them. Headlines are chock-full of many other companies looking to the Lone Star State.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time for California to capitalize on its resources. And utilizing the plentiful geothermal energy in the Imperial Valley might be a good place to start.

The high-tech and growing electric car company, Tesla, recently announced its plans to build a battery “Gigafactory” that would employ about 6,500. Several states are being considered for the project: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Why shouldn’t the Palo Alto-based company build a factory in its home state?

That’s where state Sen. Ben Hueso’s Senate Bill 1139 could be of help. The bill, which is scheduled to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, would require retail sellers of electric power to procure 500 megawatts of electricity from geothermal power plants.

The Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource has 1,700 untapped megawatts. The area is a prime location for Tesla, which relies on a resource that can be pulled from geothermal power plants: lithium.

It’s estimated that a 100-megawatt geothermal project can bring in more than 300 jobs. It’s also estimated that a project of that size could bring in $150 million in local property tax revenues, and $2 million to $2.5 million annually in lease payments to local governments and private landowners.

The numbers look pretty good for a state that’s recovering from years of budget deficits and has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent. It’s also ideal for the Imperial Valley, which is struggling with a 22 percent unemployment rate.

SB 1139 would do more than boost California’s economy. The bill would help the state meet its goal of significantly reducing greenhouse emissions. California can capitalize on its resources, not just for the betterment of a fast-growing California-based company, but for its people too.

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