Imperial County betting its future on renewable energy

The county, which has the state's highest jobless rate, needs the construction boom to spur its economy. But some farmers and Native Americans are crying foul.

Los Angeles Times by Shan Li

Situated in the southeastern corner of California, bordering Arizona and Mexico, Imperial County has long depended on agriculture and cash crops that grew from the good earth.

But lately the region — which carries the dubious distinction of having the state's highest unemployment rate at 25.5% — is betting its future on a different kind of farm: green energy.

Spurred by a state mandate that requires utilities to get a third of their electricity from green sources by 2020, renewable energy companies are leasing or buying thousands of acres in Imperial County to convert to energy farms providing power for coastal cities — bringing an estimated 6,000 building jobs and billions in construction activity to the county.

Although renewable energy projects are sprouting up across the Golden State, no county needs them as much as Imperial, which has consistently ranked as the worst-performing region of California even in boom times.