Daggett Solar Project Scoping Meeting Encounters Major Resistance
A proposed new 3,500 acre solar project in Daggett ran into serious opposition at a San Bernardino County public scoping meeting last week. The public's time for commenting on the project is running out.
A Notice of Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Daggett Solar Power Facility Project, proposed by Daggett Solar Power 1 LLC, a subsidiary of NRG Renew, LLC, is accepting public scoping comments through 4:30 p.m., April 26, 2018. The project would include 3,500 acres of photovoltaic solar power generation that would surround the Barstow Daggett Airport to the west, north, and east.
While the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department notes that the project is being designed in accordance with the General Plan's Renewable Energy and Conservation Element (RECE), that was adopted on August 8, 2017, it is important to note that the language which could have severely restricted projects such as this one, was not adopted during that meeting of the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors had directed Land Use Services to take the language back to the Planning Commission for approval, and to then bring it back to the board for final approval. Instead of proceeding with that directive, Land Use Services chose instead to meet extensively with representatives of the solar power industry, delaying the implementation of the language, and ultimately crafting "alternative" language for consideration - none of which was requested by the Board of Supervisors. As a result, this RECE language has yet to be adopted. (More about the RECE 4.10 language in other Mojave Watch stories.)
Though the airport serves not only as a civilian airport, but also as the U.S. Army's Fort Irwin National Training Center's airbase for rotary (helicopter) and fixed wing aviation operations, it was apparent NRG had not consulted Fort Irwin, the Department of Defense, or the Federal Aviation Administration prior to proceeding with the project (despite the project being planned for several years prior to the submission of the application to the county). Officials from Fort Irwin expressed serious concerns about the impacts a solar energy facility of this size could have on their ability to continue to operate from their base at the airport.
Military concerns ranged from glare - both sunlight and moonlight glare, the gen-tie poles (power poles) that are noted to be up to 120 feet in height, as well as the potential for the 5.5 square mile PV project to create its own microclimate. Fort Irwin personnel expressed concerns about any possible increase in temperature at the airport, noting that during hotter months, there were already issues with gaining lift while carrying full loads, especially for rotary assets. Increasing the temperature at the airport would decrease lift, and could end flight operations during summer months.
In addition, blowing dust, military personnel and a civilian pilot who operates from the airport noted, poses a serious threat to all airplane and helicopter engines, with the potential to increase maintenance costs, or even possibly creating a safety hazard for those operating aircraft.
Military personnel noted that they did not believe the FAA had the ability to prevent the project from proceeding. But, they added, it did have the ability to order the airport closed to civilian and military operations if the project was built and it was perceived as creating a hazardous environment for those flying in and out of the airport. A closure of the airport would leave Fort Irwin with no base for aviation operations, a serious consequence, and one that would take millions of taxpayer dollars, and the loss of valuable military training time, to replace.
Those were not the only concerns raised by the attendees of the public scoping meeting held on April 11, 2018 at the Daggett Community Center. Residents, including many from nearby (ie: downwind) Newberry Springs, as well as other concerned desert citizens, voiced concerns over water usage (up to 70 acre-feet per 200 project acres during construction, in an area where agricultural water use has been heavily restricted); the impact to agriculture and the potential for related job losses; blow sand and dust in an area already known to be a sand transport corridor; the loss of historical resources; the potential for impact on property prices; wildlife concerns; and visual resources along historic Route 66, at the western end of the new Mojave Trails National Monument. Neither the BLM, nor National Parks Service, both of which oversee historical preservation initiatives pertaining to Route 66, had been consulted about the project.
Residents pointed out that San Bernardino County doesn't bring in much tax revenue from projects like the Daggett solar project, so if there were negative impacts to jobs, agriculture, property values, etc., the county could actually lose money from approving the project.
One resident of Lucerne Valley, another desert community facing an onslaught of utility scale solar projects on a combination of BLM (federal), state, and private lands, noted that a far smaller solar project built there led to the movement of rodents and other small "critters" from the 224 acre project site where their burrows had been destroyed during construction, into the properties of neighbors. This migration led, in turn, to snakes moving into the yards of residents near the project. One woman found she could not sell her home after the project was built, the resident noted.
Another resident in attendance claimed a small 22 acre solar project in the area was "literally burying the downwind neighbors."
Several of those making public comments during the scoping meeting noted that the county's Land Use Services Department had allowed NRG to only provide a seven page Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the project (including maps), whereas other projects had submitted detailed initial plans that totaled more than 100 pages. They stressed that the brief summary of the project didn't provide enough information for the public to be able to comment, and added that the public comment period should be extended. County officials noted that no extension would be granted.
One final factor in consideration of this 3,500 acre project is that another 1,200 acre solar power project is planned for the area immediately to the east, creating nearly 7.5 square miles of solar power projects surrounding the airport, upwind of the agriculture and community of Newberry Springs.
Read the Daggett NOP here: http://www.sbcounty.gov/Uploads/lus/Environmental/Daggett%20Solar%20-%20NOP%20FINAL.pdf
OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLIC REVIEW AND COMMENT The NOP is available for public review on the County’s website: http://cms.sbcounty.gov/lus/Planning/Environmental/Desert.aspx.
Additionally, copy of the NOP is available for public review at the following locations:
San Bernardino County High Desert Government Center 15900 Smoke Tree Street, Suite 1331 Hesperia, CA 92345
San Bernardino County Government Center 385 North Arrowhead Avenue, Second Floor San Bernardino, CA 92415
San Bernardino County Library Barstow Branch 304 E. Buena Vista Street Barstow, CA 92311 Daggett Community Services District 35277 Afton Street Daggett, CA 92327
Comments and questions should be directed as follows, before 4:30 p.m. on April 26, 2018: County of San Bernardino Land Use Services Department Tom Nievez, Contract Planner 385 N. Arrowhead Avenue, First Floor San Bernardino, CA 92415 Phone: (909) 387-5036