A nouveau win-win public-private partnership for growth and despoilation of country

In the Great Age of Electrical Deregulation that has brought such benefits to California since 2001 that the state treasury has been in debt billions ever since, the Committee of crisis Capitalists, speaking through their mouthpiece du jour, Junior Brown, age 75 but still a brat, has decreed that all solar projects proposed by plutocrats should be built regardless of the cost to local government because they are "green," the new "small is beautiful" in Jr's playbook.

In the case of Inyo County (high desert east of the Sierra) they have a pretty good idea how much it is costing; in Merced it is a little bit obscure because of various bribes paid the county by Tsakapoulos that will insure that the county will not push too hard for the Quinto Solar Project to complete its mitigation, 2:1 prime farmland in perpetual agricultural easements to placate the farm bureau, which would be unlikely to be fulfilled in any event for lack of available and willing landowners. (The gesture is about as symbolic as the local farm bureau president's hay bale house that she will be vacating this damp winter for sunny Costa Rica.)

But everyone has covered their embarrassing parts and LA gets more electricity. It's a genuine WIN-WIN/PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP FOR GROWTH at the expense of the environment and endangered species.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Los Angeles Times

Solar power plants burden the counties that host them
Eager for jobs and tax money, Mojave Desert counties welcomed big solar projects. But they may have been too optimistic. And expanding emergency services and infrastructure isn't cheap.
By Julie Cart

“Nobody is outright against these [solar] projects,” said Kevin Carunchio, Inyo County’s administrative official, but “we don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.” (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times / October 11, 2012)

When it comes to attracting business to California's eastern deserts, Inyo County is none too choosy.

Since the 19th century the sparsely populated county has worked to attract industries shunned by others, including gold, tungsten and salt mining. The message: Your business may be messy, but if you plan to hire our residents, the welcome mat is out.

So the county grew giddy last year as it began to consider hosting a huge, clean industry. BrightSource Energy, developer of the proposed $2.7-billion Hidden Hills solar power plant 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles, promised a bounty of jobs and a windfall in tax receipts. In a county that issued just six building permits in 2011, Inyo officials first estimated that property taxes from the facility would boost the general fund 17%.

But upon closer inspection, the picture didn't seem so rosy.

An economic consultant hired by the county found that property tax revenue would be a fraction of the customary amount because portions of the plant qualifiy for a solar tax exclusion. Fewer than 10 local workers would land permanent positions — and just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents. And construction workers are likely to spend their money across the nearby state line, in Nevada.

Worse, the project would cost the county $11 million to $12 million during the 30-month construction phase, with much of the money going to upgrade a historic two-lane road to the plant. Once the plant begins operation, the county estimates taxpayers will foot the bill for nearly $2 million a year in additional public safety and other services.

Two of California's other Mojave Desert counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, have made similar discoveries. Like Inyo, they are now pushing back against solar developers, asking them to cover the costs of servicing the new industry.

"Southern California is going to become the home to the state's ability to meet its solar goals," said Gerry Newcombe, public works director for San Bernardino County. "That's great, but where are the benefits to the county?"

Desert counties also are anticipating costly shifts in land use, including the conversion of taxable private property into habitat for endangered species. Solar developers are required to buy land to offset the loss of habitat caused by their projects. Once the property is acquired, it cannot be developed, which reduces its potential for tax revenue.

Two of the largest solar plants in the world are under construction in San Bernardino County. But county officials are not sure if revenue from the projects will offset the cost of additional fire and safety services, which analysts say will amount to millions of dollars a year.

For example, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project at the county's eastern border has agreed to pay $377,000 annually, but that may not be enough to cover the county's new costs related to the plant. The county doesn't know how much solar plants will drain from its budget because the projects are being planned and approved too quickly for adequate analysis, officials say.

"We really support private development and generating jobs," Newcombe said. "On the other hand, I am concerned that it's going too fast. I don't know that we've had a chance to appreciate the long-term impacts."

The county is also worried because most of the land inside its borders is owned by the federal government, and up to 1 million acres of that — nearly 8% of the county — could be set aside for solar development, removing it from public access and recreational opportunities, Newcombe said.

Counties that object to the pace of development, however, have been scolded for standing in the way of progress. Not only is renewable energy a priority of the Obama administration, it is also the darling of California's chief executive.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to "crush" opponents of solar projects. At the launch of a solar farm near Sacramento, the governor pledged: "It's not easy. There are gonna be screw-ups. There are gonna be bankruptcies. There'll be indictments and there'll be deaths. But we're gonna keep going — and nothing's gonna stop me."

Counties have little say because the state controls planning and licensing of large-scale projects. The California Energy Commission issues the permits for utility-scale solar farms, and counties depend on the commission's staff to look out for their interests.

To the extent that California counties are pushing back against industrial solar, the rebellion began in Riverside County more than a year ago.

Some 20 utility-scale solar farms are proposed in the eastern stretch of the county on 118,000 acres of federal land along the Interstate 10 corridor between Desert Center and Blythe.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors considered charging companies a franchise fee to offset the effects on roads and public services and to compensate for the loss of recreation and tourism access to the 185 square miles of federal land.

Local officials saw it as a matter of fairness. Public utilities pay 2% of gross receipts to the county, for example.

Merced Sun-Star

Supervisors back Santa Nella solar project…RAMONA GIWARGIS

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a 110-megawatt solar facility, spanning 1,012 acres in the Santa Nella area, during last week's board meeting.

The decision came after a public hearing and consideration of testimony from supporters and opponents of the project.

The project will install 300,000 solar panels on eight parcels of Santa Nella's agricultural land on the north and south sides of McCabe Road and on the west side of Whitworth Road, according to Mark Hendrickson, director of commerce, aviation and economic development for Merced County.

The project began in 2010 when the private owners of the land -- River West Investment Inc. -- approached the county with the idea. In partnership with SunPower Corp., they applied jointly for approval of the project.

The land is within an agricultural reserve, which is why the Board of Supervisors had to take action. County officials said the land was not covered by the Williamson Act, which restricts developing agricultural land.

The facility will supply power to homes in Southern California, not in the valley.

Those in favor of the project say it will create jobs, boost the local economy and diversify Merced County's energy portfolio.

"The Board of Supervisors' approval shows their razor-sharp focus on helping create jobs in our community," Hendrickson said. "Our residents will benefit from the influx of economic benefits to our community."

The project will employ about 315 temporary construction workers for a 16-month period. Hendrickson said the county will make every effort to fill those jobs with local workers.

Once the 16-month construction period ends, the facility will hire five workers in permanent positions, including maintenance and electrical jobs.

According to Hendrickson, other benefits include a guaranteed $1.84 million in sales tax revenue from the purchase of construction supplies -- which goes directly into Merced County's pocket.

The agreement provides $240,000 to public safety agencies, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Merced County Sheriff's Department, for services at the project site.

Hendrickson added that the 30-year project will bring in $18.5 million in anticipated income -- salaries, wages and benefits -- during its first 20 years.

But opponents of the project say the environmental impact outweighs the economic potential.

As part of the project, 204 almond trees will be cut down and an estimated 21 farmworkers will lose their jobs.

There is concern about the safety and survival of one of California's most endangered animals, common in that area, the San Joaquin kit fox.

Merced County assistant planning director Bill Nicholson said the project is a "fully mitigated," which means the environmental impacts were addressed by the applicants of the project.

For example, they will build a corridor for the kit foxes to move north and will also conserve a "2-1 agricultural mitigation."

A 2-1 mitigation agreement means that for every acre of "prime agricultural land" consumed in this project, two acres will be preserved elsewhere in Merced County -- at the discretion of the applicant.

Of the 1,012 acres used in the project, Hendrickson said 496 acres were considered prime agricultural land. Double that number -- 992 acres -- will be preserved in another part of Merced County. This land cannot be used for anything other than agricultural purposes.

Hendrickson noted the solar facility will help the state meet their energy goals under Assembly Bill 32, signed into law in 2006, which mandates that 33 percent of California's energy portfolio must be derived from renewable sources by the year 2020.

But another concern for opponents is that the facility will not supply power to homes in the valley. Hendrickson said that's part of the Power Purchase Agreement.