Photo Credit: Imperial Valley Press
Imperial Valley Press
By Edwin Delgado
El Centro—Low-income energy ratepayers will now have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of solar power without the need of spending money on solar panels or signing long-term agreements.
With the firm intention to serve its low-income customers and grant them access to renewable energy, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted Tuesday to approve an agreement with Citizens Energy Corporation to purchase 30 megawatts of solar power that will be procured to serve the 15,000 low-income electric customers within the IID’s service area.
The community solar project will allow current customers that are part of the district’s assistance programs to qualify for the E-Green program.
“Virtually all enrolled qualified low-income customers can enjoy the benefits of solar power wherever they live and realize it every month on their power bills,” said IID General Manager Kevin Kelley.
The power purchase agreement between the IID and Citizens Energy consists of the IID paying a rate of $29.75 per megawatt-hour for 20 megawatts, while Citizens Energy—a nonprofit energy company—will donate an additional 10 megawatts of power that will, in essence, drive down the price for the power to $19.83 per megawatt-hour.
The new solar project will be located on approximately 200 acres of district-owned land, leased to Citizens, and connected to IID’s electric system. The district will use the energy purchased from the project to lower the energy bills of its qualified low-income customers. The district will have an option to purchase, own and operate the project equipment at the end of the agreement.
According to Chairman of Citizens Energy Corporation Joseph Kennedy II—son of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy—the program will help qualified ratepayers save approximately $500 per year for the 23-year duration of the agreement.
“Now how cool is that?” Kennedy said. “We can do this. You’re sitting on enormous resource and we can really work together to help each other and help the poor at the same time.”
The board had previously approved the terms of the agreement in November and on Tuesday it voted unanimously to approve the full power purchase agreement. The project is expected to be operational by the end of September.
“We believe all customers should have a choice and an opportunity to support and benefit from locally produced renewable energy,” said IID Board President James Hanks in a statement. “It has been our belief for quite some time now that a program such as this could be beneficial for all our customers. I’m very pleased that we were able to put together a deal with Citizens that will turn this into a reality.”
The idea behind proposing a community solar project was first mentioned a year and a half ago when IID approved the new Net Billing Program in the summer of 2016. Kennedy noted that these community solar projects are a more efficient way to distribute solar power to the homes of the Imperial and Coachella valleys than rooftop solar.
“Everyone that runs a utility will tell you that rooftop solar—as popular as it is—is not a very efficient way of providing solar electricity to people,” Kennedy said.
The agreement comes after IID mutually rescinded another agreement with Regenerate Power in September. That project, named the Titan Solar 1 project, was expected to generate 60 megawatts of electricity, with half of that power intended to be used for low-income ratepayers.
In a letter addressed to the IID, Titan Solar 1, LLC Chief Executive Officer Reyad Fezzani cited the surrounding uncertainty of a possible tariff increase on imported solar panels as the main reason it could not longer fulfill the Power Purchase Agreement in addition to scrutiny the contract got in reports from the Desert Sun.