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Imperial County’s become a major power player in San Diego.

Nearly half of the renewable power San Diego Gas & Electric sells its customers comes from massive solar and wind projects in Imperial County.

In the last five years, developers have blanketed more than 9,000 acres of county land with solar panels and installed wind turbines on a more than 12,000-acre site in the desert.

SDG&E says those projects have helped it meet a state mandate to get 33 percent of its power from renewable sources about five years ahead of schedule. (The bar’s now been raised to 50 percent by 2030, a figure that still doesn’t include power produced by rooftop solar panels.)

The increased reliance on Imperial County has long been part of SDG&E’s game plan.

A decade ago, SDG&E began pushing a 117-mile transmission line – now known as the Sunrise Powerlink – the utility claimed would connect its customers with plentiful renewable power possibilities in Imperial County.

That $1.9 billion project went forward despite multiple challenges, and developers lined up to help supply the power.

Thousands of acres of farmland, particularly plots west of Calexico that are close to SDG&E’s substation, have since been covered with solar panels. Another 9,600 acres have also gotten the go-ahead for solar projects, though it’s unclear if all of them will actually be built.

The rapid conversion of farmland for solar projects has inflamed farmers, environmental activists and local leaders who fear the loss of jobs and valuable farm land and water rights.

The county recently approved a new plan to encourage future development near the Salton Sea and on the edges of the county’s agricultural zone.

But there are already many solar projects planned in more central parts of the county.

Here’s a map of Imperial County’s current and potential renewable projects.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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