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Breezy day marks start of major IID project

December 10, 2021

By Gary Redfern

Imperial Valley Press

SEELEY – A chilly December wind peppering their faces with Imperial Valley’s legendary dust, a group of dignitaries and corporate officials gathered Thursday morning on a remote roadside southwest of El Centro to break ground on a project expected to, among other advantages, reduce power outages.

The upgrade to the Imperial Irrigation District “S-Line” will cost $55 million. It will involve replacing 293 wooden poles prone regularly to collapsing during high winds with 184 steel poles snaking 18 miles from an IID electric substation southwest of El Centro to another on the city’s far-eastern side.

“This line has been on the ground quite a bit over the years,” said Danny Ashmore, a senior vice president of Ferreira Power West, the firm that will be doing the construction.

The event was held at Drew and Wixom roads, south of Seeley near the IID substation that anchors one end of the line and under the very poles that will be replaced. The adjacent Campo Verde Solar farm served as a de facto backdrop.

Besides moving electricity within IID’s service area, the line interconnects the area’s burgeoning renewable energy sources, including solar and geothermal, with customers outside the area purchasing that electricity.

“The upgrade project will increase the transmission capacity available to interconnect new energy projects built in IID’s service territory,” a fact sheet distributed at the event stated.

“I’ve been chasing this line for 15 years. I’m 15 years older now,” said IID Director James Hanks. “I want to see this line built before I go home.”

Hanks is likely to get his wish as completion is expected in 2022. Besides pole/line replacement, the project will include redesign or relocation of some distribution facilities.

The line was put into service in the late 1980s and is the primary path for the import and export of power through IID into other areas of California and Arizona, IID stated. The agreements needed to initiate the power-line upgrade were approved by the IID Board of Directors in October 2020.

The cost is being divided between IID, which approved funding in November, and Citizens Energy Corp., a national nonprofit renewable energy firm that locally operates the Imperial Solar farm. It aids low-income customers by contributing half of its after-tax profits to fund programs such as the S-Line upgrade in IID’s service territory, IID stated.

Citizens is paying $40 million of the cost. To pay its share, IID will issue bonds that are ultimately paid back through energy rates.

IID’s construction contract is with Sunpin Solar of Irvine with Ferreira Power doing the installation under Sunpin, IID officials explained.

While Ferreira Power’s parent firm, Ferreira Construction, is based in Branchburg, N.J., the firm formed the subsidiary in 2019 because of the demand for power projects in California, said Charles Roper, vice president of operations for Ferreira Power.

The firm employs several Imperial County residents who will work on the project, including himself, Roper said. In addition, subcontractors include local firms Hoyt Engineering and Precision Engineering. Nearly 100 workers are expected to be needed to finish the job, he said.

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