LUCERNE VALLEY – The small army of High Desert property owners standing up against the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is gaining soldiers and filing into formation.
This week, a diverse cross-section of concerned property owners and desert conservationists gathered at the Lucerne Valley Senior Center to discuss strategies, outline key concerns and rally support. In the process, attendees formed the North Slope Coalition task force.
The formation of the task force comes just weeks before the resumption of meetings of the San Bernardino County Partnership for Renewable Energy and Conservation, aka SPARC.
SPARC meeting input will help formulate the renewable energy element of the county’s general plan.
“It’s perfect timing,” said Chuck Bell, chairman of the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association.
According to organizers, the task force must convince all five members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors that the current draft of the DRECP document is detrimental to the High Desert – and to the county as a whole.
Linda Gommel, an owner of the Lucerne Valley Market & Hardware Store, said she doesn’t believe that government officials “care what we say.” However, she added, “we need to get the county supervisors on our side.”
Other attendees, frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of action by the county on what they believe is a growing crisis that could adversely transform the desert landscape, were less delicate.
“These guys need to get some (guts) and see that these (DRECP) guys don’t rule the county,” said Betty Munson, an appointed member of the Lucerne Valley-Johnson Valley Municipal Advisory Council.
On Wednesday, county spokesman David Wert stressed that the county is listening to residents and that SPARC aims to ensure that county policy reflects the interests of stakeholders.
“Everyone who wants to be heard on this subject will be heard by the county,” Wert said via email.
Field representatives for both First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and Third District Supervisor James Ramos, who were respectively named chairman and vice-chairman of the Board of Supervisors this week, were present at Tuesday’s meeting, which attracted about 75 people. The representatives listened and observed without making comments on the renewable energy issue.
“The county encourages and is encouraged by the participation of residents, businesses, and other stakeholders in this process,” Wert said. “The county needs this participation in order to create responsible policies.”
Bell said it’s imperative the county establish renewable energy zones, which would protect historically rural residential areas from becoming inundated with solar and wind farms.
According to Bell, the formerly named Agincourt and Marathon solar projects off of Camp Rock Road in Lucerne Valley are “poster child” examples of the county approving renewable energy projects in inappropriate locations. During the development phase, one solar project used nearly 50 acre-feet of water for grading and other construction purposes due to the extremely rugged and rocky terrain, Bell said.
“That’s a football field of 50-foot high water,” Bell said. “The bottom line is we need to have zoning.”
Task force organizers believe that changing the focus on large-scale renewable energy facilities to more individualized point of consumption, such as rooftop or parking lot solar, will benefit the environment and create local jobs and positive commercial opportunities. That, they say, would help keep money in the county rather than large multi-national firms based in other states or outside of the U.S.
“We’re the largest county in the nation,” said Apple Valley resident David Miller, a member of the California Desert Coalition who produced two videos shown at the event. “We probably have more sunshine than most counties combined. If we focus on opportunity, you guys (county leaders) should want this too.”
Miller’s video “Solar Revolution: A Changing Paradigm” centered on a seminal letter from David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy. Crane’s letter expressed an evolving view of the renewable energy industry. The old model, according to Crane, ultimately will not benefit investors.
“The real message has to be told, and it’s not being told,” Crane said in his letter.
Educating the public is one of the most important tasks of the newly formed group, according to Neville Slade of the Mojave Communities Conservation Collaboration, also known as MC3.
“This whole thing is so complex, and deliberately complex,” Slade said.
Julie Gilbert, an area representative for Southern California Edison, listened intently and quietly at the back of the room. SCE is proposing the Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project, a large-scale project also on the task force’s radar.
Prompted in part by a renewable energy producer’s request to connect to the SCE grid, Coolwater-Lugo would expand transmission capacity to the Lucerne Valley and Kramer Junction areas by installing new transmission lines and creating the Desert View Substation in the Apple Valley area. The project is scheduled to be operational by 2018.
When asked to comment on rooftop solar or renewable energy zones, Wert said he did not believe the county had taken any position yet, and that officials “would study and take in public comment” as they develop the general plan’s renewable energy element.
“There seems to be an assumption on the part of some that if the county hasn’t developed a policy on something or taken a position that the county has by default made a decision they don’t like,” Wert added. “The fact is, this is a very complicated and sensitive subject, which is why the county is making every effort to listen to everyone, conduct an open process, hold all discussions in public, and come up with something that will fit in with what the Board of Supervisors has defined as the county’s job: ‘To create a county in which those who reside and invest can prosper and achieve well-being.’ ”
The North Slope Coalition is expected to meet again next week. The CDC is sponsoring an educational event tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley. For more information, visit www.mojavec3.org.
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