NEWBERRY SPRINGS • Several residents in Newberry Springs are up in arms over a solar farm being constructed on 27 acres in a residential area of the community.
Local resident Robert Berkman said he can see the project from his house and is upset about how the plans for the facility have dramatically changed since its inception.
In July 2010, a permit for the solar farm by the company Solutions for Utilities, Inc. with equipment reaching heights estimated at 6 to 7 feet tall was approved by the County Board of Supervisors, according to the published California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) addendum. But in Feb. 2011, under new ownership, plans for the solar farm were amended to include panels more than triple that size, at 27 feet in height and 47 feet in length.
Berkman said the changes were presented to the community in a county notice that was sparsely issued and stated the modification would "use less equipment with less land disturbance on the same 27 acre portion of a 73 acre parcel" without revealing the height differences of the new panels.
"It contradicts the reason most of us live out here," Berkman said. "The road is called Mountain View and right now there are no mountains in that view."
First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and his Newberry Springs Field Representative, Ron Frame, visited the community on March 9 at a property owners association meeting and heard complaints from about 10 residents on the issue, according to Frame. Lovingood's special assistant Don Holland (former editor of the Desert Dispatch) said one of the major grievances was that constituents felt they were "left out of the loop" when the project changes were made.
"The reporting was not sufficient enough and the county is working hard to improve that process," Holland said.
Frame said the developers minimized the impact in order to get the 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar project approved by the Board of Supervisors.
"Cloaked in the submission for the plans was a change to be able to install more efficient panels," Frame said. "So, in that process the panels were increased in size and elevation."
According to Frame, phase one of the four-phase project is expected to be complete in May and local residents are hoping to shut down the remaining work before it goes into construction. He said another complaint from the residents was the potential for a large glare from the panels.
"There are 20 acres of those panels that are tracking exactly the same position," he said, "which means at different times of the day they can produce a glare that is pretty huge."
Berkman said he believes the developers chose the project's site by "happenstance" and that a more carefully selected site would have been fine in the tiny community.
"We're the size of Rhode Island with a population of 2,000 people. It was happenstance that this area was selected and permitted," he said. "It's unfortunate that they didn't locate a spot with no residents."
The project is owned by Newberry Solar 1, LLC, and its parent company Soitec.
Contact the writer: (760) 256-4123 or BSelf@DesertDispatch.com.
This article was updated to correct the name of the company who received the original Conditional Use Permit in July 2010. Solutions for Utilities, Inc. not Concentrix was approved for the permit.