SAN BERNARDINO A proposed county ordinance that would set development guidelines and establish land use fees for solar energy generation facilities goes before the Board of Supervisors today for consideration.
If approved, the ordinance would end a 1-year moratorium on new solar energy development in the county and would ultimately be incorporated into an amended general plan that will include a policy document on renewable energy and conservation. The updated general plan is expected to be in final draft form in early 2015.
David Lamfrom, California Desert senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, is one of many environmentalists fighting to ensure that the demand for renewable energy projects in the Mojave Desert doesn’t adversely affect its flora and fauna and ruin the quality of life of its residents.
He said he’s happy with the approach the county has taken.
“I think in the past year the Board of Supervisors has taken an unprecedented interest in the issue of renewable energy, and I’m actually proud of the Board of Supervsiors,” Lamfrom said Monday. “I think they’ve taken seriously an issue that could have fundamentally, if not handled properly, drastically altered the quality of life for people living in rural areas of the county.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the developer would have to prove to the county Planning Commission that the project would be compatible with existing and planned land uses and not have adverse impacts on the environment, habitat, scenic views or air quality.
In addition, the ordinance would set new policy ensuring there is adequate public notice whenever a new project is proposed. It would also require developers to pay a land use fee based on the amount of acreage the project will encompass and provide a security deposit to the county should the project be decommissioned or abandoned.
The county has set a per-acre fee of $580 for projects under five acres, $280 for projects encompassing 5 to 14.9 acres, and $157 for projects of 15 acres of more.
“I like that they’re going to put the onus on the developer to show that the project should go forward,” said Frazier Haney, conservation director for the Mojave Desert Land Trust. “I think the best thing we can all do right now is plan efficiently.”
One area that could be improved on, Haney said, is zoning.
“We need to improve the ordinance to prevent zoning conflicts, most specifically in rural living and conservation areas,” Haney said. “There’s still an inherent conflict between where this renewable energy use is being permitted and what the original use of those zoning districts was.”
While the county’s move to impose the moratorium was embraced by environmental watchdogs, those in the solar energy business were not happy with it. They said the county was driving away business, jobs and tax revenue.
Scott Mazzola, vice president of the Apple Valley-based Desert Solar Energy Solutions, was one of them. He told county officials that his company was poised to move two projects totaling $140 million out of San Bernardino County due to the moratorium.
The Board of Supervisors adopted a 45-day moratorium on June 12, then in July extended it by 10 months, 15 days, with the option of terminating it at any time, in order to prepare guidelines and policies for solar development.