Newberry CSD Fizzles
Short Of Need
On Solar Opposition

Newberry CSD's solar defense is to write letters.

Posted:  February 4, 2018

Whimpy,  Whimpy,  Whimpy.

    The Newberry Community Service District's Board of Directors held a Special Meeting on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, that included representatives from Daggett, Lucerne Valley, and nearly 50 local residents.  Don Holland, Policy Advisor to First District Supervisor Bob Lovingood and Field Representative Bea Lint were among those in attendance.

    The single agenda item dealt with how the CSD should handle the proposed two photovoltaic renewable energy projects that are being planned for the Silver Valley, a 1,200-acre project targeting Newberry Springs and a second 3,500-acre project that would surround three sides of the Daggett Airport.

The meeting.

    A number of people in the audience spoke, including Don Holland who defended Supervisor Lovingood's record by bolstering Lovingood's voted denial of a solar project near Baker.  That project's size and location, however, had significant cultural and natural environmental problems that legally hindered its acceptability.

    Lack of county trust was the major theme that prevailed throughout the meeting with some speakers illustrating the county's bungling of the Soitec solar project on Mountain View Road in Newberry Springs.  No one spoke in favor of either of the two proposed solar projects during the entire meeting.

    The two projects' applications, one filed late last year and the second in January 2018, each contain many hundreds of pages filled with data.  Such extensive planning, which cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, is not typically expended, nor the access to thousands of acres of land acquired, without first receiving green lights from the county's Supervisors.

    So when Supervisors Ramos and Lovingood removed Policy 4.10 from the Renewable Energy and Conservation Element during the public hearing last August, which removed residential protection from Renewable Energy (RE) developments, a betrayal by the Supervisors was felt by residents.

Background on Zoning.

    The county for the past several years has been working to revise its General Plan with what is called the Countywide Plan.  The adoption of a new General Plan is expected late this year.  As RE is one of the fastest growing segments in the county, the county adopted the Renewable Energy and Conservation Element (REC Element) last year which will be attached to the General Plan's revision.  This Element of the General Plan addresses how the county will manage RE development.

    Under Rural Living zoning which comprises most of the county controlled High Desert, utility-scale "Renewable Energy Generation Facilities" are allowed with a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).  As utility-scale RE development is obviously incompatible when placed within residential communities, Policy 4.10 attempts to address this by placing some added site exclusions upon where RE can be placed.

Third District Supervisor

    Supervisor Ramos has since rebutted the outcry over his removal vote on Policy 4.10 by spinning that he withdrew Policy 4.10 at the request of speakers at the August 8, 2017, public hearing.  He claims that speakers wanted more time to review Policy 4.10 and that the policy was not previously reviewed by the Planning Commission.

    Policy 4.10 was overwhelmingly supported by the speakers who spoke on it at the August 8th hearing who wanted the protection for the residential stakeholders.  And, there was only four short, simple paragraphs to review.

Policy 4.10   Note the above Policy 4.9's concern to "...provide sanctuary (i.e., a safe place to nest, breed and/or feed) for native bees, butterflies and birds..."   Wouldn't it have been nice for Lovingood and Ramos to allow their constituents the same consideration?

Will Policy 4.10 be reinstated?

    Policy 4.10 was intended to be a part of the REC Element and to be included as part of the revision of the county's General Plan.  The REC Element was approved by the Supervisors late last year without Policy 4.10.  Don Holland at the Newberry CSD meeting stated that while Policy 4.10 was removed from inclusion, it will be going before the Planning Commission and considered for placement back into the REC Element.

    Don Holland is correct.  When Policy 4.10 was removed, it was directed by the Board to be sent to the Planning Commission, but that hasn't happened in six months.

    Ted Stimpfel, a spokesperson for the Newberry Springs Community Alliance, states that he considers the delay of Policy 4.10 going before the Planning Commission to be a political stall.  "The matter should have been immediately directed and considered by the Planning Commission last August," states Stimpfel, "the impacted rural residents are waiting to see what happens but the county seems to be heavily embedded with the State and the solar developers."

    There is a public movement underway to have the Planning Commission consider Policy 4.10 this March.  The Planning Commission members are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Supervisors.

FYI.

    While it is true that utility-scale RE infrastructure is not taxable under state law, the facilities do pay Public Safety Services Impact Fees.  In San Bernardino County, this is covered under the Development Code §84.29.040 on a sliding scale.  For 15-acres or greater, it is $157 per acre (only $188,400 per year for a huge 1,200-acre facility).  "Alternatively, the developer of an approved commercial solar energy generation facility shall pay an annual public services impact fee on a per acre basis based on a project-specific study of the project's public safety services impacts, which study shall be paid at the developer's expense, using a consultant approved by the County."

    The county's revenue is a small fraction of normal taxation.

Conflicting information from the county.

    Don Holland, at the CSD meeting, also stated that the two applications still have not been accepted by the county for processing pending additional application data being submitted.  This is interesting as the county is reported by an inside official to be currently reviewing three responding applications that the county has solicited for preparing the Environmental Impact Studies.  Furthermore, the Land Use Services Department's own website lists the status of the projects as "Filed - Under Review."  Either Holland is mistaken or the county is taking exceptional steps to hyper-speed the applications' processing time even before the applications are officially accepted.

    Following the meeting, Holland has e-mailed a letter to the Newberry CSD Board regarding the proposed Newberry solar project, stating that: "There are several phases of development, and all of the individual development plans have not been submitted yet.  The overall project description noted on the web site (3,500 acres and 650 MW, with 450 MW of battery storage) is correct."

    No, Holland is incorrect.  He is confusing the Daggett project with the Newberry project.

Writing opposition letters is not enough.

    Stimpfel stated at the Newberry CSD meeting that while he finds the writing of opposition letters fine for the record, a mountain of vital legal documentation needs to be prepared.

    There is a possibility that Policy 4.10 could be reinstated into the REC Element; however, it is more likely that the projects will go for a CUP determination.  In either case, it becomes imperative that the opposing communities have a legally strong presentation prepared.

    Submission of letters by residents is very important as they politically establish the public's desires, but after the CSD meeting, Stimpfel explained that at CUP hearing time, letters usually have little impact on the outcome.  The issues are matters of law and the applicant's performance.  Opponents can only stop a project based upon a compelling demonstration of the opposition's robust legal merit.

    Should they lose, the opponents can appeal to a higher authority based solely upon the record of their previous presentation.  "We know what the problems are," Stimpfel stated, and at the meeting, he expressed the need for the formation of a consortium to oppose the solar projects with financial support coming from the remaining balance in the Kiewit Pacific community trust fund that is managed by the CSD.

    Stimpfel further expressed the belief that the two projects are the first of many, that if allowed, will lead to a decrease in the community's population, force the closure of the elementary school, the churches, and render the Newberry CSD obsolete.

    After the meeting, Stimpfel also emphasized that the necessary CUP EIR rebuttals are not just simple statements, but that they take many months to properly prepare and legally substantiate.  He stated that the CSD and the community are now losing the fight against the solar projects by not taking immediate action.  "This," said Stimpfel, "is what happens to manipulated people who do not understand the process.  They lose."

Is the Silver Valley doomed to solar farms?

    Not necessarily.  The two photovoltaic projects have their own deep problems.  Their biggest hurdle may be the county's Development Code.  Under §84.29.035, Required Findings For Approval Of A Commercial Solar Energy Facility, there are standards that the proposed facilities simply do not meet.  The county's Land Use Services Department shouldn't be even entertaining the solar applications at the proposed sites, but they are taking the application fees and apparently processing the applications.  Like the illegal billboards in Newberry Springs, the county continues to live up to its recognition as one of the most corrupt counties in the nation.

    Because of the Building Code's requirements and other factors, the solar proposals appear to be beatable.  The county may do the right thing and deny the applications, but if the corruption accepts them, then the community must be ready to advance the matter to a higher authority.

Water

    The proposed Minneola Solar project in Newberry Springs call for an anticipated half dozen water wells being drilled to cover the water needs of the numerous parcels.  Far more than that number will be needed for the much larger Daggett proposal.

The vote.

    With the full Newberry Board of Directors in attendance, the Directors moved to prepare and send a letter of solar development opposition to Supervisor Lovingood with copies of the letter being sent to a wide spectrum of governmental entities.  Approving the letter of opposition were Directors Robert Springer, Victoria Paulsen, Robert Shaw, and Paula Deel.  Director Larry Clark voted no.

    A new nonpartisan association is forming to address the Renewable Energy projects in the Silver Valley.  Should you or your organization wish to become an active participating steward in saving the Silver Valley, please submit your name and/or that of your organization, e-mail address and phone number to:

hdca@mail.com

Minneola Solar Project Description - (5.8MB PDF)

Daggett Solar Project Description - (192KB PDF)

Related past news blogs:
Bombshell Transformation To Hit The Silver Valley - 1/28/18
Supervisors Are Engineering Destruction Of The Desert - 1/25/18
Corrupt County Leaders Are Reshaping Newberry - 12/3/17
Lovingood Continues Damaging Votes - 11/6/17

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