SAN BERNARDINO – The county remains on the brink of “a new era of sustainable energy” after the Board of Supervisors voted to extend the review process of its Renewable Energy Conservation Element that’s been four years in the making.
With nearly 60 people lined up for public comment and dozens more attendees than what the fire marshal would allow inside Covington Chambers, the public hearing for the REC Element was, as Supervisor James Ramos put it, “a long and tenacious dialogue.”
It was Ramos who ultimately made the motion to accept the element as recommended by the Planning Commission, with the following changes:
Exclusion of Renewable Energy (RE) Policy 4.10, which prohibits utility-oriented project development that would adversely affect unincorporated communities.
Deletion of any reference to a 10 megawatt specification on projects.
The changes made are to be reconsidered by the Planning Commission and brought back to the board with any revised recommendations.
The REC Element will be rolled into the county’s General Plan and is seen by many desert community advocates as the redemption for local lands threatened by state and federal utility-scale renewable energy projects.
The idea behind the REC Element, first referred to as SPARC, was to gather public input, which Tuesday’s meeting proved there’s been no shortage of.
Some say the plan lacks specifics; others say it’s too restrictive. Some praise potential projects for the hundreds of jobs they’d create for the community; others argue those jobs are too short-term to be a sustainable benefit.
“We’re not fighting your projects … you just shouldn’t have them in our neighborhoods,” said one Lucerne Valley resident, Bill Lembright.
“It would destroy every reason my wife and I bought our home (here),” said another, Brian Hammer. “It would destroy the view, the solitude and the quiet.”
Hammer and other residents voiced their approval of the section of the plan that requires the large-scale projects to be built on five designated areas of “disturbed” lands, including Amboy, El Mirage, Hinkley, Kramer Junction and Trona. Conversely, many union workers were outspoken against the restrictions that would keep projects away from rural living areas where residents could be adversely affected.
“This is a watershed moment for our county,” Neil Nadler, a representative of the Alliance for Desert Preservation said. “If the county undermines its own land use authority with a flawed (REC Element), we all lose, and that’s the end of the game.”
According to Nadler, areas “left vulnerable to utility-scale development” including Apple Valley, Lucerne Valley and Helendale.
Other comments Tuesday reflected those that have been gathered over the past several years of forums, including a preference for small-scale accessory solar and wind power projects, and concerns about environmental quality and wildlife.
In particular for the High Desert region, worries are related to dust control and water consumption during construction.
In discussion just before the unanimous vote to hand the REC Element back to the Planning Commision for further review, Supervisor Josie Gonzales soothed some concerns among the crowd in saying she wanted to know the full scope of possible “unintended consequences” of future projects.
“I’d like to be able to explore, how do we mitigate, how do we implement steps or standards that will reduce, and preferably eliminate, those (things) from happening,” Gonzales said. “What I ultimately want is a long-lasting decision that is maybe not most welcome, but definitely has the best intentions 25, 30, 50, 100 years from now.”
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