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Newberry couple's complaint stalls solar farm

NEWBERRY SPRINGS • A Newberry Springs couple has submitted an appeal to the county keep a proposed 3 megawatt solar farm out of their neighborhood.

The appeal has halted development of the 27-acre photovoltaic project on Mountain View Road, says Mary Hoffman, president of Vista-based renewable energy company Solutions for Utilities.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear the appeal July 1.

Newberry resident James Doles says the county Land Use Services Department failed to adequately address impacts to air quality and soil erosion caused by blowing sand. The county also failed to address the glare the solar panels could cause and the potential hazard to motorists, he said. He and his wife Ramona submitted an appeal to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors April 30.

The county isn’t requiring Solutions for Utilities to come up with ways to alleviate soil erosion or blowing sand caused by removing the native vegetation at the project site, Doles said. Blowing sand poses a health safety issue and decrease visibility for motorists.

“This is a rural living zoning, which means rural residential, agriculture and other compatible uses,” he said, referring to the Newberry community. “The county has stated in writing that this is an industrial use of that property across the road.”

Hoffman received her conditional use permit in April and says she can apply for a county building permit. But because of the Dole’s appeal, she can’t do any building until the supervisors rule.

“He’s putting my whole project in terrible jeopardy,” she said, adding that she is focusing on getting the first 1.5 megawatt farm built this year, which will cost about $8 million.

Hoffman is trying to make her project eligible for partial federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. ARRA would offer a tax credit or a grant covering 30 percent of the project cost if 5 percent is constructed by the end of this year. But Hoffman says if the supervisors don’t hear Doles’s appeal soon, she won’t be able to build before the end of the year.

Hoffman has also offered to compromise with the Doles. She’s offering to set the solar panels farther back from the road and surround them with eight-foot fencing. She is also willing to cover the fencing with cloth or other material to screen the project from view, she said. She sent the Doles an e-mail Tuesday.

Doles is still considering her offer, he said Wednesday.

The public raised the concerns addressed in the Doles complaint at several meetings and hearings before the county issued the conditional use permit to Solutions for Utilities, said Chema Ude, county senior planner. County staff also met with James Doles and visited the project site.

In the past, the Doles have been involved with a residential group, Help Newberry Springs, which formed late last year in opposition to the Solutions for Utilities project. The group is concerned that the Solutions for Utilities project would pave the way for other solar development in residential areas.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com


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