LUCERNE VALLEY — There were no empty seats at Tuesday night’s scoping meeting for the Ord Mountain Solar Energy Project. Over 100 attendees packed the Lucerne Valley Community Center to listen to yet another developer describe a utility-scale project that is working its way through the San Bernardino County planning process.

In order to construct its proposed 484-acre, 60-megawatt project, applicant Nextera Energy Resources, LLC must be granted a Conditional Use Permit from the county. John Oquendo, the county's senior planner of Land Use Services, opened the meeting with an introduction to the process as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Due to the potentially significant environmental impacts as the lead agency, the county must solicit the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The purpose of an EIR is to assess the effects of a proposed project on the environment.

“The county has not yet determined the recommendation that will be made," Oquendo said. "After the EIR is complete staff will weigh results and make recommendations based on the full impacts of the project.”

The environmental consulting firm Michael Baker International, headquartered in Pennsylvania but with 15 offices throughout California, will prepare the EIR. Project Manager Bob Stark said: “This scoping meeting is the very beginning of this process, intended to solicit input from the community in order to understand what should be the focus of the EIR.”

Stark described the proposed project as 484 acres of completely disturbed land, 200 hundred acres of that completely without vegetation, to house 250,000 solar panels and an onsite substation. In addition to the Ord Mountain Solar Project, the EIR document also will include in its analysis Southern California Edison’s 75-acre Calcite Substation.

While county staff indicated that the Ord Mountain Project is not the only potential project that could be the “trigger” for the Calcite Substation, the Southern California Edison website reads: “The Calcite Substation (Calcite) is a 220 kilovolt (kV) substation planned to connect NextEra’s Ord Mountain’s 60-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic solar project. Calcite will be located in the unincorporated community of Lucerne Valley, San Bernardino County. In October 2016, NextEra submitted their application to the County of San Bernardino for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). NextEra included the SCE Calcite Substation Project description in its Initial Study submitted to the County. The CPUC has been made aware of the SCE & NextEra’s joint efforts. After certification of the environmental review and issuance of a CUP by San Bernardino County, SCE will request a permit to construct the Calcite Substation from the CPUC.”

Over 20 people spoke at the Tuesday meeting, including members of the Alliance for Desert Preservation, the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative and the Lucerne Valley/Johnson Valley Municipal Advisory Committee. Comments included concerns regarding cumulative impacts, air quality, industrialization of an established rural community, and the fact that the proposed project is in conflict with goals already expressed by the county and its Board of Supervisors.

“Don’t be fooled folks, the Calcite Substation is just another Coolwater Lugo in disguise," said George Stone. "SCE would just love to get their paws on Lucerne Valley and our region. They will use the Ord Mountain Solar Project, or any other means they have, to do so. SCE wants to cover us in utility-scale projects sending that power down the hill, and all the while making big money off all that transmission. Remember, we stopped SCE and their Coolwater monster, we can stop Calcite too.”