CALIPATRIA, Calif. – With the symbolic flip of a switch, green power began flowing today from a massive ground-mounted community solar project to provide low-cost renewable energy to 12,000 low-income households in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys.
The 30-megawatt low-income community solar project, built by Citizens Energy Corporation to provide power to eligible households living in the Imperial Irrigation District service territory, now becomes the nation’s largest array of its kind, eclipsing a 1.9-megawatt low-income project in Colorado by a factor of 15, based on figures from the Solar Energy Industry Association.
“What we’re seeing here is the expansion of a benefit so that 12,000 poor families will receive hundreds and hundreds of dollars of electricity savings every year,” said Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former U.S. Congressman who founded the innovative Boston-based non-profit 40 years ago to use successful energy ventures to help the needy. “It’s so wonderful that we can help the poor and the elderly become part of the renewable revolution and save money on their electricity bills at the same time.”
Expressing concern about access to green energy, Kennedy said solar power should no longer be the exclusive domain of higher-income homeowners or renters who can afford to install rooftop systems and take advantage of savings. “If we don’t find a way to include everyone, we’re going be left with two Americas. And we can’t have that in our country. This project helps close that gap,” he said.
The project, built on 200 acres of leased IID land under a 23-year power purchase agreement with the Imperial Valley’s public utility, generates electricity provided to low-income households in an area of California where summer temperatures often soar above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The region is also the poorest in the state. Two-thirds of the power is purchased by IID and passed along at cost to eligible families. The remaining third is donated by Citizens Energy to IID to further lower costs.
That donation arises from Citizens Energy’s commitment to help low-income families in the Imperial Valley with profits from its $100 million investment in the $1.9 billion Sunrise PowerLink high-voltage transmission project connecting the valley’s renewable energy resources to San Diego.
“Today we celebrate the joining of forces between IID and Citizens to help provide clean, locally generated, renewable energy to thousands of people in the Imperial and Coachella valleys, all of whom will also receive additional monthly savings on their energy bills,” said Erik Ortega, president of the IID Board of Directors.
“Now, IID’s low-income customers can say they too form a part of California’s green energy revolution.”
The $46 million project, consisting of 107,000 panels and built with over 280 union jobs, is tucked among citrus groves near the Midway Substation in Calipatria. The cost of energy from the project is the lowest IID has ever procured for solar energy – under 2 cents a kilowatt hour. IID will have an option to purchase, own and operate the solar project at the end of the agreement.
Kennedy and Ortega were joined at the dedication by Drew Bohan, executive director of the California Energy Commission; California state Sen. Jeff Stone; and Ryan Kelley, chairman of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors.
Drew Bohan expressed his support of the unique project while highlighting the expansion of California’s renewable energy sector -- expanding from less than 1% of the state’s energy consumption to 34% over the last 17 years. This exponential growth can largely be attributed to the state’s commitment to lowering the cost of rooftop solar technology for individuals and families.
“But, there are a lot of people in California who don’t own their home—they rent,” added Bohan. “So that’s why we are so excited to see this community solar program benefit everybody without folks having to put solar on their own homes.”
State Senator Jeff Stone echoed Bohan’s enthusiasm for an inclusive approach to renewable energy. “We live in a hot and hostile climate. We have senior citizens that have to choose between food, medicine, or turning their air conditioning on,” said Stone. “Many people need to have air conditioning for their health but too many can’t afford the electricity bills. That’s why this project is so important.” Pauline Price, a 67-year-old great-grandmother who will benefit directly from the project, is a retired nurse who struggles to pay for medical expenses associated with her husband’s kidney dialysis along with the high costs of running their air-conditioning around the clock.
“I believe in global warming but I haven’t been able to do anything about it because I can’t afford rooftop solar panels,” said Price, who lives in Niland, a desert town located near the Calipatria array. “I appreciate the opportunity to join the green revolution and save money at the same time.”
The Imperial Irrigation District is channeling the low-cost power to income-eligible households through the newly christened eGreen Program, which will increase discounts offered through its existing Residential Energy Assistance Program. All of the utility’s REAP customers will be automatically enrolled in the eGreen Program.
About Citizens Energy
Citizens Energy Corporation is a Boston-based nonprofit founded by former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. Under his leadership as chairman and president, Citizens Energy has compiled a 40-year history of channeling revenues from successful energy ventures in oil, natural gas, electricity trading, energy efficiency and conservation, transmission, wind power and solar arrays to programs that help the poor.
A strong advocate for clean energy policies and deployment of renewable resources in California, IID is the third largest public power provider in the state. The district manages more than 1,000 megawatts of energy derived from a diverse portfolio of resources, including solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydro.