Don Fischer has eight kilowatts of solar panels on his home’s rooftop in Running Springs. He appreciates the nice dent the panels make in his electricity bills and likes the idea of more people in his community taking part in at-home green energy production. But he is unsure about some industrial-scale renewable energy projects proposed throughout the county, which he worries will become eyesores or environmental hazards.
“There’s enough large-scale energy in the county as it is,” Fischer said.
Fischer’s opinions on renewable energy are just the kind of feedback San Bernardino County is looking for.
San Bernardino is creating a new general plan for the future of the county. Part of that plan will focus on the county’s renewable energy goals. That was the purpose behind the SPARC (San Bernardino County Partnership for Renewable Energy and Conservation) public workshop held in the Big Bear Lake fire station Aug. 25. It was the second such meeting SPARC had held in Big Bear Lake. The first was April 16. They will hold another meeting later this fall.
“This meeting is one of the more positive things I’ve seen San Bernardino County do,” Fischer said. “People in Washington think the desert isn’t anything. They don’t think much about what San Bernardino has to offer. It’s nice to have the community have some input on energy plans.”
SPARC organizers have visited five cities around the county in each phase of public workshops: San Bernardino, Yucca Valley, Big Bear Lake, Hesperia and Barstow. The first round of meetings brought out a total of 82 county residents. SPARC organizers used their comments to form discussion questions for this round. Next, SPARC organizers will put together a draft of the county’s renewable energy proposal based on community feedback. They will offer residents one more chance to make comments during the final phase of meetings. The county hopes to adopt and begin implementing a renewable energy plan by spring of 2015.
Siri Champion, a SPARC representative, explained that in meetings across the county, community comments have had some common themes.
“What we’re hearing from residents of the county is that they do not want more utility-scale projects,” Champion said.
A utility-scale solar farm might put out 20 megawatts of energy. That would be enough to power a whole community, but it could take up to 200 acres of land, organizers explained.
Nine participants, primarily from the Big Bear area, came to Monday’s meeting. Opinions in the group varied. Some attendees were hesitant about, while others opposed large, utility-scale energy projects.
Some of the workshop’s attendees also expressed concerns over proposed energy projects such as the North Peak Wind project proposed by European company E.ON Climate and Renewables or the Coolwater-Lugo Transmission proposed by Southern California Edison. Those projects, SPARC organizers explained, fall outside the county’s jurisdiction. The county’s new general plan will jump-start new energy projects and put guidelines in place for deciding on future projects. But it will not change energy laws on federally controlled land—and a lot of the county falls under federal control, organizers explained. Projects like North Peak Wind, which is proposed for Bureau of Land Management land, has been opposed by two county supervisors, but will ultimately be approved or denied by the federal government.
The group was more hopeful on the topic of small-scale projects, such as subsidizing solar or wind energy for individual homeowners.
“I think small-scale would be great,” said Martin Canty of Big Bear City. “Almost everybody’s got a rooftop or a yard where you could put a solar panel or a wind turbine.”
Another man in the group expressed frustration though-—he had looked into renewable energy options for his home, but permitting laws for a lot of his size had held him back.
“It’s really critical for us to understand what those kinds of obstacles are,” Champion said, encouraging the man to submit a letter to the county about the issue.
Feedback for each issue raised during the workshop varied. But there was at least one strong consensus during the meeting. Organizers asked if San Bernardino County should make it a goal to become a leader in renewable energy. The group’s response was a resounding “yes.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding