IID breaks ground building major transmission line

SEELEY — The $55 million S-Line transmission groundbreaking was appropriately held with solar panels and the Imperial Valley Sub-station flanking the ceremony as Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County officials joined stakeholders digging gold-colored shovels into the ground, marking the physical beginning of the major transmission line upgrade, Thursday, Dec. 9.

Its purpose is to import and export power, connecting the Imperial Valley and El Centro substations and maintain stable and reliable power to IID customers and the Southern California energy grid.

The 18-mile S-Line was originally constructed in the 1980s with technology now outdated. The 293 wooden poles that carry the lines wheeling electricity from the Valley to San Diego and Arizona will be replaced with 184 steel poles and 18 miles of fiber optic wire.

Ryan Jordan of Cordova was the senior project manager of the build. He explained that the S-Line, so called because of its shape, will carry the same voltage but will bear more load than the old line did.

“The project had a lot of issues. It is not technically hard to do, but the logistics are challenging. It’s like you have a big puzzle with all the parts moving and at one point you need to make everything come together exactly,” Jordan said. “But the IID folks are amazing, there was a lot of passion, and now the project will be built.”

Others involved with the design and engineering were ZGlobal and Ferrera Power West. Citizens Energy, Joe Kennedy’s firm, helped finance the project. Peter Smith, Citizens Energy representative spoke at the ground-breaking ceremony.

Antonio Ortega, IID Government Affairs and Communications officer, said Sunpin will be the first to connect to the new, improved line when it is expected to be completed by late 2022. The power load it will carry could provide 325,000 homes with electricity, but it’s use will be to wheel the power generated from the solar fields to San Diego. The solar fields, as the one in the background, will wheel its created power through the S-Line to the substation at the end of the line where other companies will interconnect buying the electricity to power Southern California.

“It was 15 years ago when Joe first came to the Valley with Sunrise Power. People in D.C. are just now trying to put energy and social justice together. You are way ahead of them, Citizens has been plowing half our profits into installing solar panels in low-income housing here,” Smith told the assembled dignitaries.

IID Board President Jim Hanks was the keynote speaker, saying he had been chasing this line for 15 years, saying the IID had been missing potential money on it and now it was a monumental project putting a major transmission line on the IID grid.

“If you look at the shovels,” Hanks pointed to the lineup of golden shovels and hard-hats resting on the handles, you will see that one lacks a hard hat.” He reached into the podium bringing out the missing hard hat. “This one’s mine, I expect there to be many more projects, so I keep this in my car. I’ve got a shovel in there too,” he said to the laughter of those attending.

Breezy day marks start of major IID project

SEELEY – A chilly December wind peppering their faces with Imperial Valley’s legendary dust, a group of dignitaries and corporate officials gathered Thursday morning on a remote roadside southwest of El Centro to break ground on a project expected to, among other advantages, reduce power outages.

The upgrade to the Imperial Irrigation District “S-Line” will cost $55 million. It will involve replacing 293 wooden poles prone regularly to collapsing during high winds with 184 steel poles snaking 18 miles from an IID electric substation southwest of El Centro to another on the city’s far-eastern side.

“This line has been on the ground quite a bit over the years,” said Danny Ashmore, a senior vice president of Ferreira Power West, the firm that will be doing the construction.

The event was held at Drew and Wixom roads, south of Seeley near the IID substation that anchors one end of the line and under the very poles that will be replaced. The adjacent Campo Verde Solar farm served as a de facto backdrop.

Besides moving electricity within IID’s service area, the line interconnects the area’s burgeoning renewable energy sources, including solar and geothermal, with customers outside the area purchasing that electricity.

“The upgrade project will increase the transmission capacity available to interconnect new energy projects built in IID’s service territory,” a fact sheet distributed at the event stated.

“I’ve been chasing this line for 15 years. I’m 15 years older now,” said IID Director James Hanks. “I want to see this line built before I go home.”

Hanks is likely to get his wish as completion is expected in 2022. Besides pole/line replacement, the project will include redesign or relocation of some distribution facilities.

The line was put into service in the late 1980s and is the primary path for the import and export of power through IID into other areas of California and Arizona, IID stated. The agreements needed to initiate the power-line upgrade were approved by the IID Board of Directors in October 2020.

The cost is being divided between IID, which approved funding in November, and Citizens Energy Corp., a national nonprofit renewable energy firm that locally operates the Imperial Solar farm. It aids low-income customers by contributing half of its after-tax profits to fund programs such as the S-Line upgrade in IID’s service territory, IID stated.

Citizens is paying $40 million of the cost. To pay its share, IID will issue bonds that are ultimately paid back through energy rates.

IID’s construction contract is with Sunpin Solar of Irvine with Ferreira Power doing the installation under Sunpin, IID officials explained.

While Ferreira Power’s parent firm, Ferreira Construction, is based in Branchburg, N.J., the firm formed the subsidiary in 2019 because of the demand for power projects in California, said Charles Roper, vice president of operations for Ferreira Power.

The firm employs several Imperial County residents who will work on the project, including himself, Roper said. In addition, subcontractors include local firms Hoyt Engineering and Precision Engineering. Nearly 100 workers are expected to be needed to finish the job, he said.