YUCCA VALLEY – Citizens met with county officials and consultants in Yucca Valley Thursday night, April 17, in an effort to guide the next 20 to 30 years of utility-scale renewable energy projects in the Hi-Desert.
The county is spending some of its $700,000 grant from the California Energy Commission to hire the PMC consulting group and conduct community workshops to get input on including a renewables element in the General Plan update.
The land-use planning document the county is using is also the grant application known as SPARC, the San Bernardino County Partnership for Renewable Energy and Conservation.
Consultants gave brief overviews of possible projects, from smaller rooftop and free-standing solar panels to 3,500-acre solar thermal installations to 10,200-acre wind turbine farms.
The 40-plus attendees in the Yucca Valley Community Center Yucca Room then broke into four smaller groups, with a county official or a consultant facilitating the discussion and writing comments on poster-size paper tablets.
“We feel that everyone’s ideas are important, so we do want to hear everything,” consultant Abby Woods told groups.
“We already have these ugly projects,” Ruth Rieman of Yucca Mesa bluntly told her consultant. “Can we have the county’s moratorium on new projects reinstated?”
“We’re a target for these projects,” Mark Lundquist of Joshua Tree told the county. “We’ve already been asked to draft a list of checkpoints for the applications.”
“There’s no carbon accounting for these projects,” April Sall of Pioneertown observed. “We can reach our renewable energy goals without harming desert life.”
“We’re looking to protect our way of life,” Mike Lipsitz from Landers said to the county’s Karen Watkins. “Southern California Edison will push utility-scale projects and not rooftop solar.”
“I don’t like the county’s goals as put forth in the grant,” Claudia Sall of Yucca Valley stated.
“We need to look at the effects on the national park and our cultural resources,” Seth Shteir from the National Park Conservation Association said.
“What can we do legislatively to counter the federal government’s view that the desert is a wasteland?” Dave Miller of Yucca Valley asked. “These are bad decisions made with no regulation.”
“The board of supervisors should abrogate the requirement to have 33 percent renewables and say it should be rooftops instead,” Dan Boening of Yucca Mesa declared.
“The county has some power over public lands,” Sid Sillian of Upland commented. “It could refuse to endorse these projects because of water use.”
“The process for permitting should be streamlined,” Mark Chappell of Morongo Valley asserted in his group. “If it’s not rejected in 12 months it should be approved.”
“That would reward the foot-dragging approach,” Joe Fairbanks of Joshua Tree shot back.
The county is planning 15 public workshops this year, with each of the five target communities getting three workshops. The renewables element is expected to be completed for the general plan update by next spring.
To see the complete comments from the meeting, review the SPARC document and monitor the county’s SPARC progress, log on to www.sparcforum.org.
What is SPARC?
“SPARC,” the San Bernardino County Partnership for Renewable Energy and Conservation, is the grant application prepared by county land use services to help the county create a renewable energy and conservation element in the general plan update.
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation mandating that 33 percent of energy will be produced from renewables by 2020.
“The need for a conservation strategy in the Mojave Desert is even greater now that plans for renewable energy production require development of vast acreages in the Mojave Desert region,” SPARC states.
One of the goals put forward in SPARC is speeding up the conditional use permit process for large scale solar and other renewable energy projects from nine months to four or five months. The projects being considered are:
• Small distributed generation solar photovoltaic rooftop and free-standing plants that generate and use energy locally.
• Utility-scale solar photovoltaic installations from 200 to 4,700 acres converting direct current to alternating current.
• Utility-scale solar thermal installations from 100 to 3,500 acres using mirrors and lenses to focus sunlight on receivers.
• Utility-scale wind turbine farms from 2,600 to 10,200 acres.
• Utility-scale biomass which requires 2.5 acres per megawatt to burn agricultural waste fuels in a furnace to generate steam and power a turbine.
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