Garamendi Takes Soft Energy Path in San Diego

10/9/08Follow @bvbigelow

California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who announced an early start to his 2010 gubernatorial bid in July, signaled his support yesterday for a new technology cluster emerging in San Diego. The new cluster is focused on cleantech and renewable energy in the cross-border region of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Baja California, which Garamendi described as an “innovation corridor.”

Renewable energy resources—including solar power, wind, biomass, and geothermal—could potentially generate as much as 47,000 megawatts of electricity in the mostly desert region, Garamendi said yesterday in an interview shortly before giving a speech at the 22nd Forum Fronterizo, a luncheon series created to examine issues in the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan region. If a megawatt of renewable energy provides enough electricity for 300 homes, that’s enough power for more than 14 million homes.

Realizing that potential, though, “requires consistent, supportive governmental policies,” Garamendi says—and a report prepared for the event by the San Diego-based Center for Sustainable Energy found that a key requirement for developing the region’s renewable energy is creating an effective cross-border leadership group to develop a coherent strategy.

Using renewable energy to displace America’s reliance on oil and coal has become a national security issue, Garamendi says. But developing the potential solar, wind, and geothermal resources of the Imperial Desert also poses enormous economic benefits, he says, including the creation of an estimated 200,000 new jobs in the region.

Innovation and the venture community also stand to play a part.

“All of this depends on advances in the technologies of these systems, whether we are talking about wind energy, geothermal, photovoltaic, or concentrated solar power,” Garamendi says. “So research becomes exceedingly important.”

As a result, educating the region’s workforce—from research scientists to plumbers and electricians—also becomes important, he says.

But financing enormous projects has recently put renewable energy under a cloud, Garamendi says. With the financial crisis still crushing credit, he says “project financing is an endangered species at the moment.”

Before his election as lieutenant governor, Garamendi served two terms as state insurance commissioner, and he has also served in the state Assembly and Senate. The 63-year-old Democrat previously ran for California governor in 1994, 1986, and 1982.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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