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County to ask for compensation policy for renewable energy projects

Resolution to address alternative energy impacts to OHV use, land access

After establishing its official position on renewable energy projects in the High Desert, the Board of Supervisors may pass a resolution Tuesday asking state and federal agencies require project developers to provide compensation for taking land off property tax rolls to alleviate wildlife impacts.

The Board may pass another resolution that addresses potential threats projects pose to off-highway vehicle areas and other public land uses such as mining and grazing. The county is asking that state and federal agencies – primarily the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Energy Commission – make other public areas available for recreation or other uses, or that project developers be required to purchase additional land.

Project developers are currently required to purchase additional land to alleviate wildlife habitat loss.

The Board will also ask for support and input from the National Association of Counties, an organization representing county governments nationwide. The National Association of Counties meets in Reno, Nev., Thursday and Friday. The county will then submit its resolutions to the energy commission, Forest Service and BLM.

Under its resolution, the county is asking state and local agencies to consider requiring project developers make a one-time payment to a local conservation group as compensation for purchasing private land, land that is taxed, to lessen impacts to wildlife habitat.

County officials are also asking state and federal agencies to consider making project developers continue to pay federal tax on land they purchase even if they turn it over to the government or to a conservation organization.

In April, the Board established its official position on the large number of wind and solar projects being built in the High Desert. It also established a criteria for staff to focus on when commenting on these projects, including ways to offset threats to the California desert tortoise and protection to local infrastructure. This followed the Board's February decision to intervene in BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating facility near the Nevada border

The QuadState Local Governments Authority – a joint powers authority with officials from counties in Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California, including San Bernardino County – adopted a set of similar resolutions in June, said Gerald Hillier, QuadState's executive director.

Hillier, at the request of First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt drafted the resolutions after Mitzelfelt visited the site of a proposed solar project in Imperial County during a meeting with the BLM. The project blocked an OHV area, and officials were discussing how people would access the area once the solar project was built.

“The answer was when the solar project gets developed (the OHV area) is going to be gone,” Hillier said. “So a citizen suggested to Supervisor Mitzelfelt that maybe the county's resolution might also have a component added that addresses the loss of public recreation areas.”

According to Hillier, most environmental impact reports address impacts to wildlife not at anything else. The county is asking that government officials look at human use of the land in addition to wildlife use.

But the resolutions won't change the way renewable energy projects are developed on public land, Hillier said.

“Both resolutions simply ask the agencies to do something different than what they're doing,” Hillier said. “What the county is wanting to do is get the agencies to change their emphasis and involve the county more closely.”

If the resolutions are adopted Tuesday, it would look for other ways to alleviate wildlife impacts besides project developers buying up additional land, said Andy Silva, spokesman for First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

“It looks for alternative strategies that helps the species thrive without harming the county financially,” Silva said.

The Board of Supervisors meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the County Government Center at 385 North Arrowhead, First Floor in San Bernardino.

Contact the writer:

(760) 256-4123
jcejnar@desertdispatch.com


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