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Groups ask county to oppose fast-tracking; Critics say plan gives locals no input in locations of wind, solar projects

Desert community organizations are urging the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on industrial-scale renewable energy projects proposed for private lands.

The Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association and other groups argue that the fast-tracking of wind and solar energy plants will prevent local groups and residents from directing these projects to the least invasive locations.

Johnson Valley resident Betty Munson, who is vice president of the Homestead Valley Community Council, said local residents want to put a hold on county land use decisions for private property until the communities can address issues with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

The DRECP is a state and federal program that would potentially allow large-scale renewable energy projects to be built throughout the desert, and San Bernardino County comprises more than 50 percent of the 22.5-million-acre area proposed in the plan.

“We’re trying to stop the county from OKing this stuff until all DRECP issues are cleared up,” Munson said. “Unfortunately, the DRECP has not had actual input from people living around the proposed project areas affecting them.”

Although the DRECP largely aims at placing the industrial wind and solar farms on public lands, LVEDA chairman Chuck Bell outlined the group’s concern with the development of energy projects on private lands overseen by the county.

“The recently approved solar fields in the southern portion of our community … in addition to the previously approved Chevron Solar project east of Lucerne Valley … will significantly prejudice and hinder our ability to influence the state to direct these projects to the most appropriate locations without immediate county action,” Bell said in a letter to the board of supervisors last week.

First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood said the multi-government agency that composes DRECP needs to slow down with its proposal process so residents and local groups may review the plan and respond.

“I just don’t think it has reached the residents in those areas affected, so this needs to be addressed,” Lovingood said. “The constituents need to be particularly prepared to address how any plan affects the areas around their homes.”

LVEDA argues that current county codes for use of private lands pre-date the proposed fast-tracking of the DRECP. The association claims that DRECP changes the rural living and agricultural zoning of local private lands, turning them into industrial sites without any local or county participation.

“Local input must be consulted to guide any industrial installations away from affecting the values of nearby residential properties, and toward areas of minimal or poor quality groundwater, minimal or no flood control issues and minor view-shed or scenic impacts,” Munson wrote in an email.

The moratorium is a more immediate measure for the communities concerned, as local stakeholders ultimately want the county to reject the currently proposed DRECP plan and alternatives.

Community organizations such as the Homestead Valley Community Council and the California Desert Coalition have joined with the LVEDA to urge the county to reject all proposed plans for placement of industrial-scale renewable energy projects in the High Desert.

In an April 23 letter from Lovingood and 3rd District Supervisor James Ramos to DRECP director David Harlow, the supervisors asked for public community meetings to be hosted this summer in Lucerne Valley, the Morongo Basin and the greater Barstow area.

“We are eager to lead these meetings with you in our desert districts so that all stakeholders, including residents and tribal governments who will be impacted the most, have an opportunity to be heard,” the supervisors stated in their letter.