I have lived in the same home, in unincorporated Apple Valley, since 1990. I live 2 miles up a dirt road. It is remote, and I chose it for that reason. My neighbors are cottontail rabbits, roadrunners, coyotes, fat little quail, blue jays, and other desert natives. Before 2012 I kept to myself. I knew my two closest neighbors, their kids and their dogs, but I didn’t really know anyone else and that was fine with me.
When Southern California Edison’s Coolwater Lugo and the North Peak Wind Projects came along, things changed for a lot of us in this part of the desert. Since then, we have truly come together as a community, with one common goal: to protect the future of our desert.
The state and the federal governments want to take away land use decision-making from the local level, away from the county, our communities and the people who actually reside here and pay their taxes here. They want to decide for us the best uses for our land.
State Senator Kevin DeLeon has proposed Senate Bill 100 that requires California to make 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2045. This from the Senator of Senate District 24, an area of Los Angeles where power-addicted urban dwellers are never asked to reduce their demand for power or conserve their electrical use.
A rural community to an urban dweller may appear to be just a sprinkling of homes. But we know different. We know that many desert dwellers live down dirt roads, without street lights or sidewalks, on 5- and 10-acre lots. We understand that “sprinkling of homes” is a rural community. We know a 500-acre solar “farm” planted less than 100 feet from someone’s lifelong investment (their home) does not make a good neighbor.
San Bernardino County has been working on a solution to these mandates by developing a Renewable Energy Conservation Element (REC) to implement into its General Plan, our General Plan. This effort has been ongoing since June 2013. Local groups of volunteers from across the High Desert have dedicated their time over the past four years working with the county staff to develop a forward-thinking, practical REC, a plan that protects our rural communities yet supports renewable energy generation in the right places.
We have asked the county to include language that protects property rights and keeps utility-scale renewable energy out of our Rural Living zones and out of our local communities. We proposed that the county designate specific overlay zones using five areas as the only appropriate locations for utility-scale renewables. The five areas — Trona, Hinkley, Amboy, south of Kramer and Boron — total almost 90,000 acres, and were chosen for their proximity to transmission and the disturbed nature of the land in those areas.
By designating these five specific areas the county can send a clear message to developers: Here are the areas where your utility-scale projects can go without the uncertainty of investing in designing, developing and planning a project that may never come to fruition because of costly opposition.
The language in Section 4.10 of the REC specifically protects our Rural Living Zones and local communities. Here is what Section 4.10 says:
4.10: Prohibit utility-oriented Renewable Energy project development on sites that would create adverse impacts on the quality of life or economic development opportunities in existing unincorporated communities.
RE 4.10.1: Prohibit development of utility-oriented RE projects in the Rural Living land use districts throughout the county.
RE 4.10.2: Prohibit development of utility-oriented RE projects within the boundaries of existing community plans, which at the time of adoption of this Element are the Bloomington, Muscoy, Bear Valley, Crest Forest, Hilltop, Lake Arrowhead, Lytle Creek, Oak Glen, Homestead Valley, Joshua Tree, Lucerne Valley, Morongo Valley, Oak Hills and Phelan/Pinon Hills Community Plans.
RE 4.10.3: Establish exclusion areas in the Development Code regulations for renewable energy development, beginning with the prohibitions in Policies 4.10.1 and 4.10.2 and provide for additional exclusion areas, such as new community plan areas, to be designated by amendment to the Development Code.
Unfortunately Section 4.10 was strongly opposed by Big Solar at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting last Tuesday. Attorneys for NRG and Nextera said the language in Section 4.10 would stop the successful repowering of California and asked that the Section be stricken from the REC.
Our County REC must have gotten something right to have gotten the attention from the likes of Nextera and NRG Energy. They didn’t fly their attorneys out to San Bernardino to express concerns about our REC because they care about the environment. It is all about money, big money. These two companies alone have received over $6 billion in federal loans, loan guarantees and grants since 2009. NRG: $3.63 billion in our tax dollars. Nextera Energy: $3.113 billion in our tax dollars. That is why they are so interested in San Bernardino County, our plentiful sun and our desert region. They will swoop in, build their monsters in our desert, make their money and leave.
The REC can still be our first line of defense against utility-scale renewables in and around our rural communities. Unfortunately the motion by Third District Supervisor James Ramos supported by a vote of 5-0 at the last Board of Supervisors meeting, will send Section 4.10 back to the County Planning Commission for consideration.
So, here is a message from the county’s rural communities to the Board of Supervisors and our County Planners: Don’t let San Bernardino County and your stakeholders be bullied by the likes of Nextera and NRG Energy. Don’t permit utility-scale renewables in Rural Living Zones or areas with Local Community Plans. Include the 5 overlay areas in the REC as the only places for utility-scale projects. Secure the County’s Vision to provide a home with a sense of community, keep your promise to your voters and keep our desert intact.
Lorrie Steely is the founder of the Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative (MC3).