Imperial Valley Press
By Erik Ortega
This week, the Imperial Irrigation District celebrated the joining of forces with Citizens Energy Corp. to help provide clean, locally generated renewable energy to thousands of people in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. The IID Citizens community solar project, located just north of Calipatria on district-owned property, takes locally generated renewable energy and does something no other utility does by scale or implementation. A first of its kind for community solar, all of the energy from the IID Citizens solar project will be provided to all of IID’s low-income customer accounts, which currently is about 12,000. In addition to these customers now being able to enjoy the use of local resources and be part of California’s green energy revolution, these customers will also benefit from a new discount on their electric bill. The project is quite possibly an example for the rest of the country and something that will have long lasting, local beneficial impacts. For a number of years, IID has believed that a project like this could benefit its customers. It came about after the district and Citizens, which had already been investing in the community, began discussions in 2017 and things moved forward quickly. With IID agreeing to lease the land, and Citizens agreeing to construct the solar project, the IID Board, in January 2018, approved a 23-year power purchase agreement for 30 megawatts of renewable energy, obtaining the power at the lowest cost the district has ever been able to procure for solar energy. Thanks to the unique partnership with Citizens, IID is able to pass on these savings in the form of an additional monthly discount to all of its Residential Energy Assistance Program low-income customers through the district’s new eGreen Program. Given that each customer account likely represents a larger population when one looks at total household size, I would estimate that thousands more will benefit directly from this. In a region where unemployment rates continue to hover around 20 percent and where income levels fall well below the national average, maintaining affordable energy rates and expanding our customer assistance programs is a critical priority for IID. Furthermore, the solar power adds to the district’s already diverse renewable energy portfolio — one that I am proud to say — is made up entirely from renewable energy resources harnessed here in the IID service area. Large energy projects like this one also create good paying jobs. During the construction phase there were 280 jobs created, most of them union jobs, which also created far-reaching positive financial impacts to the overall community. So, there are a number of reasons for which we can be proud. More than a century ago, IID was created by the public and for the public, and our mission remains – to deliver the most reliable, efficient and affordably priced service to the communities we serve. We can be proud that after so many years, we continue to live by that mission. This project is a testament of what can be accomplished when two entities like ours, committed to serving the public good, dedicate our resources and teams of talented minds to work together to achieve one common goal with one shared vision. It is my hope this will not be the last time we collaborate and I look forward to our continued partnership. Erik Ortega is president of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors.