VICTORVILLE • With a countywide moratorium on any new solar projects set to run out in approximately a month, San Bernardino County has received a grant that could help speed up the permitting process for those same projects.
The county will use $700,000 recently awarded by the California Energy Commission to incorporate long-term renewable energy development and conservation objectives in its soon-to-be-updated general plan.
The grant is part of the county’s participation in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a multi-agency program that seeks to fast-track wind and solar developments in the California desert.
San Bernardino was one of five counties to receive a portion of the more than $3 million in renewable energy grants from the California Energy Commission earlier this month.
Although county officials provided few specifics in how the money would be used, the county’s application for the competitive grants reveals plans to speed along the process for renewable energy projects with newly proposed rules and policies.
The grant application proposes to decrease the typical time to process a conditional use permit for a renewable energy facility, which is currently more than nine months.
The county’s grant application states that it “could cure impediments to renewable energy development and reduce the permit processing time significantly by as much as 50 percent by adoption of clear policy guidance and a regulatory system designed specifically for renewable energy projects.”
Felisa Cardona, deputy public information officer for the county, said the award is a planning grant to add a renewable energy element to the county general plan and regulatory system. The money is not going to a specific program, Cardona said.
“Basically it (the grant) is to bolster (the county’s) planning to come up with a general plan that will include renewable energy policies,” said Cardona, while noting that the county’s current general plan does not include any specific planning for renewable energy project development.
The county’s application for the grant revealed the need to update its general plan, describing it as “antiquated, with weak renewable energy policies, goals, objectives and programming,” while proposing to “build a seamless renewable energy system of policies, regulations, programs, resource development and incentives.”
In an email to the Daily Press, Betty Munson, vice president of the Homestead Valley Community Council in Johnson Valley, expressed concern that the state’s mandated industrial-scale solar and wind energy policy will benefit few High Desert residents.
“I know people are beginning to find out how damaging is the industrial development of those ‘free’ energy generators, the sun and the wind,” Munson said. “Fewer people are patting themselves on the back for encouraging the overgrowth of wind turbines and solar fields with their transmission lines – we are all learning.”
Instead, Munson suggests that the California Energy Commission should add point-of-use energy to its portfolio of renewables.
Consisting of a collaboration between the Energy Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the DRECP is a desert energy conservation plan in the Mojave and Colorado Desert Regions that proposes to guide solar and other energy projects while protecting California’s natural resources.
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