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IID Sends Letter to Biden On Hell’s Kitchen

Board of Directors Stresses Importance of Controlled Thermal Resources Lithium Project in Message to President

Mud pot fields near the southeastern shores of the Salton Sea show the potential energy brewing beneath the surface of the known Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area where EnergySource have built geothermal plants and others like Controlled Thermal Resources of Australia are also developing geothermal plants. Ultimately, both companies will also build lithium-extraction facilities to draw the valued mineral from the geothermal brine and serve a demand that is escalating rapidly. | CONTROLLED THERMAL RESOURCE PHOTO

The Imperial Irrigation District is sending a letter to President Joe Biden stressing the importance of the Hell’s Kitchen geothermal and lithium extraction facility at the Salton Sea. 

The district Board of Directors voted 4-0, with Director Norma Sierra Galindo absent, to issue the letter calling on the President to assist in the federal permitting process during its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Controlled Thermal Resources Chief Executive Officer Rod Colwell speaks during a media event at the Salton Sea announcing his Australian company’s Hell’s Kitchen geothermal plant and lithium extraction project at the Salton Sea. | CONTROLLED THERMAL RESOURCES PHOTO

“The project will produce clean energy, much needed domestically sourced battery grade lithium and will do so in an environmentally sound way,” according to the letter. “With the creation of good paying jobs, this clean energy/lithium project will have a vital economic impact on the Imperial Valley, historically one of the poorest communities in California where unemployment rates range between 16-25 (percent) annually. The beneficial environmental effects of this project cannot be overstated.”

The Salton Sea area is sitting atop millions of metric tons of lithium in the form of its geothermal brine, and for several years, companies, government officials, and agencies have been working to tap into that resource.

The total inferred lithium resource at the Salton Sea is about 2.7 million tons, according to the Controlled Thermal Resources’ website. The company’s Hell’s Kitchen project includes eight stages, with the potential to recover 300,000 tons per year, along with a total of 1,100 megawatts in power production at the geothermal facility.

There are presently 10 geothermal-energy facilities operated by CalEnergy in what is referred to as the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area, and those plants are generating around 327 net megawatts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The letter from the IID is basically asking Biden’s administration to help move forward the different permitting issues with the federal government, IID General Manager Henry Martinez said during the Sept. 7 meeting. 

Controlled Geothermal Resources has already inked agreement with two major automakers, General Motors and Stellantis, to provide lithium for their fleet of electric vehicles before any construction gets underway.

“If CTR is going to produce clean energy for IID and lithium for GM and other auto manufacturers by 2024, it must navigate the federal and state permitting processes rapidly,” according to the letter. “They will need the help of your Administration to ensure that the federal permitting process does not delay the beginning of construction of this important facility. This project provides the opportunity to change the game in the areas of clean energy and domestic supplies of critical minerals. It is crucial that we move it promptly through permitting to construction.”

The directors expressed support in sending the two-page letter to Biden.

“I can’t tell you how important this letter is in terms of the economy we’re creating here in the Salton Sea,” IID Director Alex Cardenas said Tuesday. “I’m very excited to see the highlights of rare earth minerals. It’s amazing what’s really happening out in the Salton Sea.”

He joked with President of the Board Jim Hanks that this is probably the first letter he’s signed that is heading to the President. 

“I’m very supportive of this letter,” Hanks said. “Having served as superintendent of Calipat(ria Unified School District) for 20 years, I’m very familiar with the value of that tax base to not only the Imperial Valley but the school district. I was given an inside peek as to the mineral possibilities clear back in 2006, well, it was earlier than that. Probably the late ’80s.

“We have a very good idea of the value of lithium,” Hanks continued. “It will be matched by all these additional minerals. So, I think it is very important, based on the development and the needs of our country, that we send this letter so we can expedite some of these things.”

A satellite map shows the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area in red, where an untapped subterranean store of geothermal energy exists and where companies plan to build lithium-extraction facilities to mine the metal from the geothermal brine. | U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY MAP