The Desert Renewable Conservation Plan has been released. This plan expects to affect very little of San Diego County, but all of Imperial County. The development of the desert is presented as a way to meet climate change goals as well as the development of renewables in the southwest. “The DRECP planning area covers private, state and federal lands in seven counties–Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego.”
The plan itself has a limit to the desert and does not go into the Cleveland National Forest, for example, since the forest is not part of the same ecological zone. Well, they sure lied about that!
The plan intends to create focused development areas, which will have a streamlined process to approve renewable energy projects, and will at the same time, so the executive summary reads, “remove very sensitive areas from development.”
This plan is intending to develop up to 20,000 Megawatts of capacity. This does not mean that all of that potential will be developed by 2040. What it means is that market forces will determine whether that much is developed.
One of the assumptions made by the plan is that the utilities will remain the means of “centralized power,” with main transmission lines taking the power to the cities. The plan is not intended as a siting, or specific project document. Starting in 2013 some of these assumptions might be at risk.
According to Christopher Nelder, quoting a paper from the Edison Electric Institute “The cost of power generation from solar photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, micro-hydro, and fuel cells running on natural gas has been dropping dramatically. Residential and commercial utility customers can now generate some or all of their own power economically instead of drawing it from the grid. The cost of such distributed generation is set to continue falling as more of it is deployed around the world, and “could directly threaten the centralized utility model.”
This year Shayle Kann wrote in Genentech solar that the utilities are not blind to this. We know the utilities have tried to have initiatives on the ballot to slow this, as well as legislation. One of those bills was AB 2145, which is presently dead. One of the reasons for their concern is that the first quarter of this year saw the installation of 73.4 MW of rooftop solar that did not come from any incentives.
The DCREP does acknowledge this partially, when they write that the plan has to take into account the potential need as the market develops.
While Mexico is not officially part of the generation system or conservation strategy as envisioned in the plan, when one looks at the focused development area in Imperial County, and the focused wind maps down the Sierra Juarez, there is continuity.
Given that the Sierra Juarez project, which will enter production in mid 2015 is connected to the US grid, it should be considered functionally another development zone. The buyer for it’s power is not the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, but San Diego Gas and Electric.
The Sierra Juarez project and rooftop solar might reduce the need for industrial renewable projects in the backcountry, or provide a safety valve for the California Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).
“Sempra Generation is working to develop a major wind facility in the La Rumorosa area of Baja California where this power resource has major potential. The Project is designed to have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW) when fully operational in 2023. This will allow the generation of more than 2,600 gigawatt-hours (gWh) of electricity or enough to power 438,000 homes.” This project is scheduled to be completed by 2023.
This is part of the increasing economic integration of the Cali-Baja Region, but we must ask about the generation of 20,000 MW and their needs given the pressures of roof top solar and this project. The Desert Plan does not seem to consider any of the projects south of the border in their calculations. That said, it is a massive report, so it’s not an easy read; here it is DRECP and EIR/EIS.