Landers Group Challenging County Planning Commission Approval Of Solar Farm

(December 30) An appeal of the San Bernardino County Planning Commission’s December 4 vote approving Salt Lake City-based Sustainable Power Group LLC,’s 35-acre, three-megawatt solar farm to be located between Bowman Trail and Sunny Vista Road in Landers has been filed.
The Landers Association, a nonprofit social welfare organization serving the Landers community, filed the appeal with the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors, which has not yet scheduled a hearing date on the matter.
According to Michael Krantz, Vice President of the Landers Association, “The solar facility would be a blight on our rural desert community, being located on pristine land, highly visible from Reche Road, the major highway running through Landers. Migratory birds and desert tortoises are also likely to be affected.”
“Wind blown dust and sand is currently a major effect suffered by residents living near other existing solar farms in the area with very similar soil conditions, due to the disturbance of the delicate soil crust.” continued Krantz. “The Bowman Trail solar project would be equivalent to 32 football fields, likely to severely affect the quality of life for neighbors during our frequent windy days.”
The project is 2,000 feet from Reche Road which it parallels, and is on land which is at some points elevated almost 180 feet higher than Reche. Among other affected land owners within view of the site is a Buddhist retreat center, which is diagonally across the Reche/Bowman intersection.
According to Tracy Creason, an associate county planner who prepared the county land use services staff report on the project for the planning commission, “Planned facilities are proposed to include photovoltaic panels mounted at either a fixed tilt or on single axis trackers, supported by steel piers driven into the ground to an appropriate depth, as determined by soil conditions. The height of panels is proposed to range from 6 to 12 feet, in rows running north and south on the project site. The proposed design also includes inverters and transformers, mounted on small concrete pads and distributed across the site, as well as an unmanned data acquisition system to monitor and control facility operations. The project will interconnect to Southern California Edison’s existing Landers 25 kV distribution line, near the intersection of Bowman Trail and Reche Road, via a 0.4 mile gen-tie placed either overhead or underground in the public right of way along Bowman Trail.”
Creason noted that “The current general plan land use designation for the project area is Homestead Valley Community Plan/Rural Living – 5 acre minimum parcel size (HV/RL-5). This designation allows development of renewable energy generation facilities with a conditional use permit, as requested by the project applicant.”
In approving the project, the planning commission made a finding of consistency with applicable development standards outlined in San Bernardino County Development Code Chapter 84.29 Renewable Energy Generation Facilities, as was required by the county’s guidelines, and it further granted Sustainable Power Group the conditional use permit.
The planning commission approved the project, based on Creason’s assertion that “the proposed project is considered consistent with the county general plan, the development code, and Homestead Valley Community Plan. Overall, the project is largely obscured from the view of nearby residences by existing natural vegetation common to the area. The proposed project will, however, alter views from immediately adjacent areas. Visual impacts will be reduced by the proposed relocation of selected Joshua trees, branched pencil cholla and cottontop cactus from within the project site to the site perimeter. Due to the proposed area to be enhanced, intervening vegetation, and the height of project facilities, project structures would not dominate the horizon or significantly modify the overall visual landscape.”
Creason’s report also stated that “The proposed project will assist in meeting the renewable resource targets for retail sellers of electricity in California and is consistent with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions goals. Therefore staff recommends approval of the project.”
After the planning commission’s December 4 vote, roughly 60 Landers residents gathered at Belfield Hall on December 13to hear a presentation on the project from a representative of Sustainable Power Group.
After the meeting, the residents present unanimously approved an appeal of the December 4 planning commission approval.
The Bowman Trail Project is one of the first commercial solar projects to be approved by the planning commission after the board of supervisors lifted a moratorium on solar projects in December 2013 by enacting a special ordinance with restrictions on the siting of commercial solar power facilities in the county. Among other conditions, a project, under the county’s restrictions, must be either “separated from existing/developing rural residential areas or be “screened from public view so as not to adversely affect the desirability of …rural residential use.”
Krantz said the Landers Association expects a large turnout of Landers residents at the January 6 meeting of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, and that he anticipates they will detail their objections to the project to the board at that time.

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