California’s Imperial County replacing farm land with renewable energy


Solar and wind farms are being built where farmland used to be in the baking-hot Imperial Valley of California, which borders Mexico. California has mandated 20% renewable energy in-state by 2020. Developers are building fast to meet that goal.

Some think this will be a long-term economic boost for Imperial County. It won’t be. Wind and solar farms don’t need many workers to build and even fewer to maintain them once online. Thus, any economic benefits will be short-term for the area and the profits will go elsewhere.

It’s the nature of these kind of power plants. Once you build them, there are no moving parts and you don’t need many folks to maintain them,” said Alan Bernheimer, spokesman for First Solar Inc., which recently began building its own Imperial project that is estimated to create 250 construction jobs. “It does not provide substantial long-term employment.”

These profits are guaranteed as Californians will be captive buyers to whatever the going rate is. Imperial Country agriculture, due to its ancient water rights, gets over 20% of the water from the Colorado River. With less farmland to irrigate, ranchers can then sell their excess water, presumably to the 800 lb gorilla of California water, the Metropolitan Water District. Water and electricity are inextricably entwined in California.