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Newberry Springs residents up in arms over County's industrial solar projects

While language that would restrict industrial scale solar power development on state and private lands in San Bernardino County was left languishing in the Land Use Services Department for eight months, LUSD was meeting with project developers and projects were allowed to go forward. Now, some residents are mad as hell.



















At the March 27 meeting of the Newberry Springs Community Services District (CSD), San Bernardino County Planning Director Terri Rahhal, spoke at length on the odyssey that the language that would have likely prevented industrial scale solar power projects across the county, has taken since the Board of Supervisors removed it from the Renewable Energy & Conservation Element (RECE) language they approved in early August, 2017. The journey the language was thought to be on, was merely a referral back to the Planning Commission for its review and approval, prior to being sent back to the for their final approval. That was not to be.


Eight months later, Rahhal explained, the week after the release of new alternative language that could be adopted in place of the original language in the RECE, that the eight month wait was due to a number of factors, some of which appear to be questionable.



San Bernardino County Planning Director, Terri Rahhal, speaking at the Newberry Springs CSD meeting in March, 2018.

First, Rahhal noted to the CSD meeting audience, after the public comment period for the RECE language had closed, she chose to meet with industry representatives. She noted she hadn't heard much from them during the public comment period, so she made time to meet with them to hear their concerns after the period for commenting had been closed. She was apparently unphased by holding private meetings with solar industry representatives after deadline for comment, giving special privileges to industry that were not made available to county residents themselves.


Meanwhile, as the RECE language was kept in limbo by Rahhal and LUSD, as Rahhal met with solar industry representatives to hear their concerns, the county continued to accept applications for industrial scale solar development on private and state lands, allowing developers to file their project applications while the language that would likely have prevented their projects from going forward was languishing at LUSD.


Rahhal noted in her talk at the CSD that it was apparent that the language she had not forwarded to the Planning Commission was the least restrictive language the public would accept. Why then, would she choose to subvert it and grant special favor to industry representatives after the public comment period had closed?


Whether it was intentional or not, Rahhal gave the appearance of providing special access and privileges to solar industry representatives that were denied to county residents.


Here is the language we are asking be retained as originally submitted to San Bernardino County:

RE Policy 4.10:  Prohibit utility-oriented RE project development on sites that would create adverse impacts on the quality of life or economic development opportunities in existing unincorporated communities.

RE 4.10.1:  Prohibit development of utility-oriented RE projects in the Rural Living Land use districts throughout the County.

RE 4.10.2 Prohibit development of utility- oriented RE projects within the boundaries of existing community plans, which at the time of adoption of this element are the Bloomington, Muscoy, Bear Valley, Crest Forest, Hilltop, Lake Arrowhead, Lytle Creek, Oak Glen, Homestead Valley, Joshua Tree, Lucerne Valley, Morongo Valley, Oak Hills and Phelan/Pinon Hills Community Plan.

RE 4.10.3 Establish exclusion areas in the Development Code regulations for renewable energy development, beginning with the prohibitions in Policies 4.10.1 and 4.10.2 and provide for additional exclusion areas, such as new community plan areas to be designated by amendment to the development code.


In addition to these points, Rahhal also noted that the developers of the Dagget Solar Power 1 project were only being required to submit a seven page Notice of Preparation (NOP) for their proposed 3,500 acre project. Other projects, such as the Ord Mountain solar project, proposed for 484 acres near Lucerne Valley, had far more detailed NOPs that reached more than 100 pages. In essence, the public scoping for the Daggett project will be based upon the fact that the public hasn't been presented with any detailed information about the proposed project. How the public is supposed to comment intelligently on a project for which there are no details made available to the public, is a question of concern.


April 11, 4 p.m. - The Daggett CSD meeting, includes scoping for Daggett solar project, a 3,500 acre photovoltaic project planned for the Newberry Springs/Daggett area.  The project will be introduced to the public and comments will be allowed about environmental concerns the community would like to have addressed in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  The Daggett solar project is upwind of Newberry Springs and is located in a sand transport path.    The Daggett Community Center is located at 35277 Afton Street, Daggett, CA 92827. For more information: http://newberryspringsinfo.com/Alliance/Crucial-Upcoming-Daggett-Meeting.html


Written comments on the Daggett Solar Power 1 project will be accepted through 4:30 p.m., April 26, 2018. For more information: http://cms.sbcounty.gov/lus/Planning/RenewableEnergy.aspx


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