Power for the People

Solar, geothermal, and wind technologies put the Coachella Valley at the forefront of clean energy



Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is expected to be fully operational by 2015.

COURTESY OF FIRST SOLAR

The Coachella Valley was a clean energy leader before the green movement made it cool. From the iconic windmills to the growing tapestry of solar arrays, the region continues to lead with prodigious innovation and an expanding marketplace for high-tech jobs.

Opportunities in clean energy will blossom with a requirement that California generate 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The Coachella Valley will be ready with its abundance of natural assets, including 350 sunny days, geothermal potential in the San Andreas Fault, and the windy San Gorgonio Pass.

Here are a few active solar and geothermal projects in the Southern California desert:

• Desert Sunlight Solar Farm — a 550-megawatt photovoltaic plant near Desert Center, co-owned by NextEra Energy Resources, GE Energy Financial Services, and Sumitomo Corporation of America — is slated to be fully operational by 2015. It is expected to serve about 160,000 California homes and displace about 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

• NextEra’s Genesis Solar Energy Project, west of Blythe, will be one of the largest in the nation, generating enough electricity annually to power nearly 88,000 homes.

• Ten geothermal plants near the Salton Sea power generators with hot water from deep in the earth, producing enough electricity to power 10,000 homes.

• Three companies in the same area are testing techniques for algae production.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has established a solar and geothermal power development area on 64,000 public and private acres in Southern California that could produce enough electricity to power more than 1 million houses, and the Bureau of Land Management has established the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area that will include a 10,759-acre solar energy zone and about 19,000 acres for geothermal exploration and development. Solar and geothermal power plants in the area could produce more than 3,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 1.2 million homes.

IMAGINING SILICON SPRINGS

The upstart Silicon Springs Ventures, based in the Coachella Valley iHub, aims to create a Silicon Valley-type ecosystem in the Coachella Valley, and “grow a robust workforce, increase economic impact, and create wealth.”

The firm — the brainchild of five tech-savvy executives with a combined 20 start-ups — develops, markets, and supports interactive digital products for mobile and OS platforms.

Silicon Springs Ventures works in an advisory capacity, offering business strategies, idea incubation, marketing finesse, and capital attraction, says Chairman and CEO Len Kapner.

“We’re focused on a couple of key areas,” adds President and COO Joel Fashingbauer, the former vice president of product development at Atari. “Mobile, social, big data, cloud computing, and wireless transport — it’s a convergence of five big tech pieces. More big companies are focused on back-end data, because it’s all your marketing and information that makes you valuable.”

Silicon Springs plans to expand into R&D, product testing, marketing and advertising, and workforce development in digital design, programming, and client support to attract younger workers.

Silicon Springs “the movement” — as opposed to Silicon Springs Ventures — is a collaborative initiative between the firm, Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, and Graphtek Interactive.

WORKFORCE EXCELLENCE

The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership is growing the region’s clean energy and technology sectors, from incubating businesses at its Coachella Valley Innovation Hub to nurturing the next generation of experts through Workforce Excellence programs.

The heart of CVEP’s Workforce Excellence is the Advanced Technology Council’s collaboration with College of the Desert’s Advanced Transportation and Renewables program, as well as more than 40 representatives from local development agencies, utilities, schools, and private business.

Sheila Thornton, vice president of Workforce Excellence, says this partnership enables students to enter the workforce pipeline as early as elementary school, with career explorations and career-based, hands-on programs that include competitions to create more efficient wind turbines and scientific studies of the Salton Sea at the high school level. The three school districts run 16 high school career academies, including two focused on energy: Desert Hot Springs High School’s Renewable Energy Academy of Learning and Desert Mirage High School’s Green Energy Technology Academy.

College of the Desert’s Desert Energy Enterprise Center in Palm Springs offers energy technology demonstration projects, professional development, and training in wind turbine and solar power technology. Its new West Valley campus, expected to open in 2015, will incorporate the Desert Energy Enterprise Center, skills labs, and a 60-acre “GreenPark” solar farm. In addition, Time Warner sponsors robotic camps sponsored by SMaRT (Science, Math, and Robotic Technology) education through the “Connect A Million Minds” project to boost interest in science, technology, engineering, and math for young learners. For more information, visit www.desertrobotics.com.

For advanced students, University of California Riverside in Palm Desert hosts the Center for Conservation Biology, which focuses on sustainable environment research and biodiversity. The Riverside campus houses the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy and the Center for Environmental Research and Technology.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

• Palm Springs Convention Center hosts the 2013 Southern California Energy Summit (Oct. 3-4) featuring U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and actor and sustainability advocate Daryl Hannah, among other energy leaders. Visit www.socalenergysummit.org

• Top investors, Fortune 500 executives, service providers, and emerging clean-tech firms converge on Indian Wells Feb. 6-7, 2014, for the ninth annual Clean Tech Investor Summit. Visit cleantechsummit.com

• Clean Cities Coachella Valley Region, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, leads a local coalition of fleets, fuel providers, and policymakers that focuses on reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases.

• Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ Ygrene Energy Fund administers a program to provide clean energy financing for commercial and residential property owners.

• Palm Springs Office of Sustainability opened 10 electric-vehicle charging stations this year; 10 more are in the works. Palm Springs also is eyeing an $18 million project that will install LED bulbs and a new irrigation system, and replace its existing energy plant.

• Old Town La Quinta switched from incandescent to LED bulbs, cutting electricity use from 28,345 to 5,343 watts per month.

DID YOU KNOW?

SunLine Transit Agency — the first in the United States to convert its full fleet to compressed natural gas — is building a 25,000-square-foot administration building and transit hub in Thousand Palms. The project is set for completion in mid-2014 and will result in more $6.7 million in work for local firms.

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