New Power Lines Will Grow Solar and Cleaner Air in the Central Valley

A report by the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) finds that new power line projects and faster permitting could make the San Joaquin Valley the center of solar power in California, and help residents breathe a little easier.

According to the report, the state needs to speed up construction of power lines to achieve its goals of adding more than 85 gigawatts of clean energy by 2034 (enough to power 64 million homes or fully charge 765,000 electric vehicles). The problem is the average time for the review and approval of a single transmission project in California is 836 days, more than two years.

CEERT and a coalition of advocates are calling on the Governor and the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO), the entity that oversees 80% of the state’s electricity flow and manages its power lines, to accelerate permitting and decrease the backlog of projects waiting for approval. Failing to do so will jeopardize California’s transition to a zero-carbon economy, according to advocates.

This issue is of particular concern in the Central Valley, which suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, and is expected to experience nearly double the amount of triple digit heat days by 2050. More heat waves and less capacity for clean energy on clogged power lines can spell disaster for residents of the San Joaquin Valley. Power outages can be deadly, leaving residents without cooling or medical equipment. And the increased electricity demand for cooling means that the state will flip on more fossil fuel power plants, which spreads more air pollution and heat trapping gasses.  

Making matters worse, clogged or insufficient power lines also means that the solar energy produced in the Central Valley is more likely to be shut off and wasted, known as curtailment. The report points out that Fresno is currently home to nearly a quarter of the entire state’s clean energy curtailment. Fittingly, Fresno also has the most interconnection requests for solar and battery storage projects of anywhere in the state. These critical clean energy projects could be significantly delayed if the state does not act.

Fortunately the Central Valley’s agricultural history can peacefully coexist with a clean energy future. The report recommends prioritizing land not suitable for farming to site solar and battery projects, and previous reports have cited research from UC Davis which finds that solar and food harvesting can be successfully co-located (known as “agrivoltaics“). While preserving agricultural land is a priority, extreme heat and drought will threaten the industry in the long term. New transmission and clean energy projects in the region can provide good paying jobs for farmworkers who want to make the transition. 

Rey Leon, Mayor of Huron commented, “the report, along with years of work on the ground by advocates and community members, is creating a new economic vision for the San Joaquin Valley. Our region’s proud agricultural heritage and hardworking farmworkers help feed the world. Now is the time to invest in a future that will bring more prosperity to the region and help power the clean energy revolution while we empower the communities that have made that possible.”

The report closes with a set of recommendations, including that priority for transmission wires and planning should be in the San Joaquin Valley, where significant quantities of solar and battery projects are expected to be developed. It also calls for community involvement in the planning process, to ensure siting of projects is equitable and benefits all residents. With more than 55% of residents in the San Joaquin Valley living in disadvantaged communities, the report’s authors stress that they must be the first to benefit from clean energy transmission via community benefit agreements. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.