February 3, 2021

Assemblymember Garcia applauds $14.89 million grant for Calipatria Lithium Plant

By Bob Marra

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) congratulated BHE Renewables (formerly Cal Energy) on their newly announced $14,894,540 grant from the US Department of Energy. The award will support the construction of a demonstration plant to convert lithium chloride into battery-grade lithium hydroxide in Calipatria in the southern portion of the Salton Sea. Last week’s grant announcement complements statewide and regional efforts to advance lithium recovery opportunities around the Salton Sea.

“After persistent and collaborative advocacy, it is exciting to see momentum build for lithium projects in Imperial Valley. I congratulate BHE Renewables on this nearly $15 million investment and commend their efforts to galvanize a competitive lithium industry in California,” said Garcia. “While the Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area is home to the largest deposits of lithium reserves in North America, virtually none is produced in the United States. As global demand for lithium continues to grow and California works to achieve our zero-emission vehicle goals, we are presented with the perfect opportunity for our region to be part of this push and lead economic recovery.”

While the operation of geothermal energy plants near the Salton Sea are currently located within Imperial Valley, the future economic impacts for Greater Palm Springs are quite promising in many regards, especially as an increased tax base from lithium production is likely to help improve the environmental challenges facing the entire two-county region.

“We truly appreciate the support and leadership of Commissioner Douglas and Chair Hochschild,” Garcia said acknowledging the California Energy Commission (CEC). “The CEC’s partnership is instrumental as we propel towards our clean energy and electric vehicle future.”

Last year, the CEC awarded a $6 million matching grant to BHE Renewables (a Berkshire Hathaway company) for a demonstration plant that would recover lithium reliably and cost-effectively from geothermal brine in the form of a lithium chloride solution, according to the release.

“Successful lithium production from geothermal brine could become the catalyst to revive Imperial Valley’s decades-old geothermal power industry, not just creating new jobs but also making the price of baseload geothermal power more cost effective for the benefit of California customers. These two projects represent bold steps in further solidifying the State’s global leadership in renewable energy and sustainability,” said Jonathan M. Weisgall, vice president of government relations at Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

On December 9, 2020, the CEC appointed nine members to the new Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California (Lithium Valley Commission). The 14-seat commission, created through Garcia’s AB 1657 (2020), will bring together industry experts and community stakeholders to review, analyze, and report their recommendations to advance lithium extraction opportunities.

To further align policy efforts, Garcia has submitted a request for Speaker Rendon to establish an Assembly Select Committee on California’s Lithium Economy and Clean Transportation.

Recognizing the timeliness and significance of these grants, CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas said: “Geothermal has been an important part of California’s renewable energy portfolio and there is a growing opportunity to co-locate lithium extraction with geothermal power in the Salton Sea region. The key to unlocking the potential of the Salton Sea region is realizing the Lithium Valley vision, which the CEC is leading through its support of the Lithium Valley Commission.”

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