• Steve Brown

Action Alert: Have your voice heard on the Daggett Solar Power Project

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is reportedly set to review, and possibly approve, the Daggett Solar Power Project at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday, December 10. This date is subject to change, as no official agenda has been posted as of now. We will update this story should the date change.

Desert residents and those concerned about desert issues should use this opportunity to have their voices heard about the potential impacts of this project. Please feel free to use the listed concerns below, and/or your own, in an email to the Board of Supervisors prior to the hearing for the Daggett Solar Power Project.

District 1: Supervisor Lovingood (cut and paste for online contact form)

District 2: Supervisor Rutherford:

District 3: Supervisor Rowe

District 4: Supervisor Hagman

District 5: Supervisor Gonzales

Clerk of the Board:

Make sure to sign up for Mojave Watch Action Alerts to be notified of upcoming meetings, events, and opportunities to have your voice heard on desert issues.

Concerns about the 3,500 acre Daggett Solar Power Project include:

* Fire and explosion concerns. A proposed on-site lithium-ion battery storage component that would store 450 million watts of electrical power leaves the site vulnerable to battery fires. The batteries are large (cargo container-sized), and have exploded at power storage sites before (most notably an April, 2019 explosion in Arizona that sent eight firefighters and one police officer to the hospital after the battery suffered a "catastrophic failure."

While provisions are made for training the local volunteer fire departments on responding to lithium-ion battery storage fires and explosions, and a budget is included that could be used to provide additional equipment, it is unclear whether these departments have adequate personnel and equipment to safely and quickly contain any explosion and fire that could occur, especially during high wind events, or if these departments were required to respond to multiple events at the same time. Neither the Daggett or Newberry Springs volunteer fire departments responded to requests for additional information.

* Airport operational concerns. The Barstow-Daggett Airport is not only the Barstow area's civil aviation airport, it also serves to host the rotary and fixed-wing aviation operations for nearby Fort Irwin National Training Center for the U.S. Army. Havng a safe and fully functional airport for the area is a matter of critical importance, especially for use during emergencies. The Daggett Solar Power Project would surround the ariport on three sides. The military aviation personnel Mojave Watch spoke with about the project had serious concerns about its implications for aviation operations, including, but not limited to: glint and glare, which could impact pilots landing and taking off; airborne particulates and blowing sand that could impact operations and maintenance, and could increase maintenance costs; increased height of poles and transmission lines near the airport; and the potential for a heat island effect caused by 5.5 miles of (black) photovoltaic solar panels sited on three sides of the airport.

While the County has routinely dismissed all concerns presented by Fort Irwin and the airport, Mojave Watch found the addendum to the project's Environmental Impact Report addressing the heat island effect appears to have purposefully left out a major study from 2016 which addresses the heat island effect of PV panels in the desert, finding it can result in a 3–4 °C temperature increase at night. Aviation personnel at Fort Irwin expressed to Mojave Watch their concerns that any additional increase in ambient air temperatures, especially during hotter months, could not only negatively impact operations, but could halt them. They also noted there is no budget available for Fort Irwin to construct a different base for air operations. Clearly, any negative impacts to the Barstow-Daggett Airport could impact military training and readiness, which is a matter of national security.

Heat island effect has impacted other large utility-scale solar power projects in the desert, such as the tornado that destroyed 200,000 solar modules at the Desert Sunlight site in 2015. An additional concern from any incidents that see the destruction of PV panels, such as the Desert Sunlight tornado, is the potential for release of hazardous waste from the PV panels into the air and soil. PV panels for a site less than twice the size of the proposed Daggett project were estimated to contain 100,000 pounds of cadmium. Not only could soil contamination result, but over time, through airborne particulate matter such as PM 10 and PM 2.5, toxins could spread downwind from the project site.

It would seem that with the potential for negative impacts to both civil and military aviation assets and operations at the Barstow-Daggett Airport, which could include potential loss of life, as well as the potential for increased costs, maintenance issues, and even public health concerns, caution would take precedence. However, County staff has recklessly dismissed out-of-hand all concerns. It is up to desert residents to ensure the Board of Supervisors properly evaluates these concerns.

" Water concerns. According to the Mojave Basin Area Watermaster, the organization responsible for adjudicating water rights within the Daggett and Newberry Springs area where the Daggett Solar Power Project would be sited, the project could negatively impact both the nearby Camp Cady Wildlife Area, as well as Afton Canyon, a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The Watermaster's concerns were matched by those of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Prior to any project approval, a plan for management of the water usage of this project should be presented to, and approved by, the Watermaster and CDFW to ensure no negative impacts will occur to Camp Cady or Afton Canyon. Nearby residents who rely upon the aquifer should also be included to ensure they do not bear the costs for additional well drilling or hauling water because of the project's water usage.

* Ancient creosote ring destruction. Approximately 70 ancient creosote rings have been identified on 300 acres of the project site. Ages of these creosote rings are estimated to range from 2,600 to 4,200 years old. Destroying these ancient desert plants that help prevent dust storms by holding the soil together, as well as their usefulness in sequestering carbon, essential in the battle vs. climate change, is in direct opposition to San Bernardino County's own plans and stated goals. When desert plants like these creosote rings are allowed to grow, they pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in caliche in the soil. If they are destroyed, not only is their ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere impacted, but the carbon they have stored in the soil is released, negatively impacting climate change for centuries to come, negatively offsetting any positive gains from renewable energy production. This must be addressed, and neither the draft or final EIR discusses the loss of carbon sequestration as is required under the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process.

* Airborne particulates. The County dismisses air quality concerns about the Daggett Solar Power Project by noting the area is already out of attainment for Ozone, PM 10, and PM 2.5. Thus, using County staff reasoning, making air quality worse doesn't count. Besides, the County continues, the air will be monitored - nearly 12 miles away, upwind from the project in an urban setting. That's like monitoring your car's exhaust by putting the monitor on the hood. It's nonsensical.

Meanwhile, concerns of residents who will be impacted negatively by any airborne particulates which can create or add to health problems, spread Valley Fever, and lessen visibility and quality of life, have been ignored. Experience with other smaller solar power projects in San Bernardino County demonstrates that the concerns by residents are legitimate, that the County does not follow through on monitoring or ensuring compliance, that there have been health problems associated with airborne particulates as a result of these project sites, and that properties downwind near project sites tend to be either devalued, or are unable to be sold.

This raises the social and economic justice concerns about the project as well. Will the lower income rural residents downwind of the project bear a disproportionate burden associated with the project's approval? It seems likely they could.

* Process. San Bernardino County Director of Land Use Services Terri Rahhal, has, at least on its face, made the process of approving this project ethically questionable. Rahhal, overseeing Land Use Services, was directed by the Board of Supervisors in August 2017 to take the Renewable Energy Conservation Element 4.10 language, which restricted the ability of projects like the Daggett Solar Power Project to locate in populated rural areas, back to the Planning Commission for review. Rahhal made it clear that after the public comment period for the language closed, she continued to host private meetings with solar project developers, at least in part to develop language contrary to RECE 4.10, which was the language county residents had requested to be approved. In short, Rahhal, who acknowledged publicly that the RECE 4.10 language was exactly what county residents and taxpayers desired, set about to subvert the language.

Rahhal and Land Use Services stalled any review of RECE 4.10, ultimately leading to its adoption 1.5 years after she had been directed to send it to the Planning Commission for review. During this period, projects like the Daggett Solar Power Project, from developers she had met with after the public could no longer comment on the RECE language, were allowed to apply and proceed.

Rahhal directly subverted the will of the residents of San Bernardino County to benefit projects like this one. The Daggett Solar Power Project, and all those projects approved to move forward during the 1.5 year RECE 4.10 review process, should be required to conform to all restrictions of RECE 4.10. That was what the citizens of San Bernardino County intended, and it's what Rahhal purposefully subverted, while drawing her salary as a public servant.

Additional Information on the Daggett Solar Power Project:

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