San Bernardino County Workshop
Invites County Development Code
Ideas For Solar Facility Placement

The Newberry Springs solar development by Soitec has triggered major county code considerations.
(Click to enlarge image in a separate window.)

Newberry Springs is an example of what can go wrong.

September 16, 2013

      On September 10, 2013, the Land Use Services Department of the county of San Bernardino held a Solar Energy Workshop to discuss and solicit public input on the upgrading of the county's Development Code on commercial (industrial) solar energy installations.

      The meeting was held in the county supervisors' board chamber in the city of San Bernardino.  Approximately 30 people attended who were evenly split, being pro solar developers, and residents who desired amendments restricting solar development.

      An additional 20 residents also participated and spoke via video communication linkages from Hesperia and Joshua Tree.  They were all requesting greater restrictions to protect their property values, lifestyle values, and wildlife.

      The proposed amended code will have a significant and direct impact upon Newberry Springs as to how future solar installations will effect the community.

      Most passionate were speakers representing Morongo Valley and Joshua Tree who are in Supervisor James Ramos' 3rd District.  Ramos and 1st District Supervisor, Robert Lovingood, have acquired the support of the other three supervisors to acquire a one-year moratorium on the issuance of new solar permits until code upgrades can be enacted.

      Last June, the county acquired a $700,000 grant from the California Energy Commission to assist in implementing renewable energy policies into the county's General Plan.

      The county's moratorium and proposed code upgrades will only impact county controlled communities like Newberry Springs, and will not effect cities, state, BLM or other federally controlled lands.  Private residential and business rooftop solar installations, known as distribution solar, are not part of the moratorium.

      Pro-solar representatives voiced disappointment over the moratorium and how it has caused a disruption in their planning, even the withdrawal of an applicant over the uncertainty of future codes.  The developers have costly funds tied into their proposals and a year's delay of waiting for the unknown has adversely affected them.

      Those supporting the moratorium voiced concern over numerous elements that they wish to have addressed in the upcoming code amendments.  The most significant request is to ban solar development in Rural Living zoning.

      Placement of industrial solar projects such as Soitec's Mountain View Road facility in Newberry Springs have a direct adverse economic impact upon the adjacent and nearby property values.  The short term jobs created by the developments, jobs that go mostly to outside the county workers, are overshadowed by the long term harm caused to the community.

      One realtor spoke that buyers looking to invest into land are being stymied over the fear of not knowing if the investment purchase of a residential parcel may someday be lost by the parcel being boxed-in by solar projects.

      The incompatibility of industrial solar facilities being built upon Rural Living zoned parcels are causing ground disturbance and dust generation, as well as impacts upon habitat and wildlife; and view-shed destruction of scenic values that impacts tourism, a major economic driver in the Mojave Desert.  These and many other concerns such as construction, tracking motors and transformer noise, water, and land restoration upon the closure of the facility, were voiced by residents.

      Two residential speakers requested that the county maintain a Web site that would track solar energy permit applications with current status updates.  The residents want better county transparency that would allow impacted residents timely opportunity to identify new in-coming projects and to fully participate in the permit process.

      Even the county's pro-solar labeling of solar projects as "commercial" upsets some residents who feel strongly that the projects being dealt with are definitely "industrial" in appearance, size and scope.

      At the workshop, the Newberry Springs Community Alliance was the lone wolf requesting that the new solar amendments to the Development Code also include wind energy.  Currently, the total emphasis of the county's moratorium and discussions have been on solar without the consideration of wind electrical generation that can be of a far greater visual obscenity and negative economic impact upon a community.

      The Community Alliance further requested the county to use its powers and influence to encourage the federal government to redirect its massive solar funding to distribution solar installations (rooftop).  Such would return tax dollars to taxpayers to improve the value of their homes and businesses and increase the taxable property value for the county.  This would help save the desert environment and ratepayers footing the bill for new transmission lines.

      The workshop lasted for 2.5 hours.  County Land Use Services and a hired contractor will be considering the input from the workshop for incorporation into Development Code amendments that will be presented to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and acceptance.  The accepted amendments will then be presented to the county board of supervisors for final approval.

      The county is still accepting comments from developers and residents in writing.  Submissions must be received by Land Use Services before 5 P.M., Tuesday, September 17, 2013.  Send to the attention of Chris Conner, Senior Planner, San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department, 385 N. Arrowhead Ave., San Bernardino, California 92415-0187.  Due to the lack of time, it is best to e-mail comments to:

      This was a very important workshop for the Mojave Desert communities; and it had interface video linkage to two locations.  The Blotter would like to have presented video excerpts here for those who were unable to attend.  The Blotter attempted to acquire a DVD copy from the county; but despite the county's extensive use of costly video equipment, it won't spend 99-cents for a DVD to record and document a workshop.  So despite all of the equipment being used, no video record is available.

Related past blog:

County solar workshop notice.

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