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⚡ "The ‘White Gold’ Land Grab for Lithium in California"

The Carbon Copy

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash

Host: Stephen Lacey
Guest: Aaron Cantú | Independent Reporter
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:35] SL: “The Salton Sea is the biggest inland body of water in California. But if you've never heard of the miraculous sea in the desert, you're not alone. In the 1950s it was a booming vacation destination, it rivaled Yosemite National Park […]. It became known as the California Riviera […]. That is until the Salton Sea started disappearing. […] [The region around] is known as the Imperial Valley. In that valley is the Salton Basin, which has been filled with water a handful of times over the last 1000 years, but the Salton Sea was different. In 1905, the Colorado River breached irrigation canals, creating a body of water as big as Delaware. When the canals were finally fixed, the only water feeding the lake was runoff from industry and farms. […] Back during the tourism years that runoff wasn't noticed, but then the Salton Sea started receding, the pollution got more concentrated, celebrities stopped coming, resorts crumbled. Today, the water is saltier than the ocean. The beaches are covered in fish bones, and toxic dust plagues residents.

[5:29] SL: “There's just not enough lithium to make all the batteries we need. In 2021, prices surged over 400%. And demand is expected to increase fivefold over the next decade. There's only one active lithium mine in the US. The vast majority is mined in Australia and South America and processed in China. The lithium beneath the Salton Sea could change everything. California Governor Gavin Newsom called the Imperial Valley the Saudi Arabia of lithium. 600,000 tons of lithium could be extracted from the Valley every year, enough to completely transform the global supply chain.”

[6:43] AC: “Estimates in state documents say the potential supply from the Salton Sea region would supply up to a third of global demand currently. The caveat of course is that demand is increasing very quickly. But it's not insignificant. It seems like it would make a sizable impact on supplies of lithium globally. The whole […] supply chain could be transformed pretty quickly in maybe the next decade or so.”

[8:03] AC: “The number one sentiment that I heard from people is, we need some kind of industry here, because we really have nothing. Agriculture has been the major industry in the southern Imperial Valley for about a century. You have maybe some trucking businesses, but really there's not very much. So people were excited at the prospect of jobs and the prospect of industry. I think people also generally feel neglected in this part of the Imperial Valley.”

[9:01] SL: “1/5 of Imperial Valley residents live below the poverty line. 85% are Latino and many live and work on both sides of the Mexico border. This region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. People there have been promised help for years and gotten little. This project is a test. It's a test for California, for clean energy companies, for the Biden agenda. Everyone is talking a big game about environmental fairness and justice and the Imperial Valley is a place for them to prove it.

[12:08] SL: “This is not the first time the clean energy industry has promised to bring economic growth to the Imperial Valley. In the 80s and 90s, eleven geothermal power plants were built to tap the hot water underneath the Salton Sea. In the 2010s, wind and solar activity picked up. And there were big promises to create local green jobs from those industries too, but the long term employment never came.”

[15:00] AC: “I think the potential benefits are massive for the state. Economically it could transform the southern Imperial Valley. It could help the state reach its emissions reductions goals, whether through faster adoption of electric vehicles, or getting rid of dirty power sources and using energy storage batteries in place of fossil fuels as part of a network of solar and wind sources. […] I think failure for the state would be really embarrassing. And so if this big idea with so much attention and resources and hope isn't able to get off the ground, I think it'd be pretty disastrous for any future potential ventures in this part of California.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 19 min | 🗓️ 02/02/2022
✅ Time saved: 17 min

Additional Links:
Article: “In search of Lithium Valley” (The Guardian, Aaron Cantú)