Planning Commission Gives Okay To 44 MW Solar Facility In Daggett

DAGGETT—(April 27) The San Bernardino County Planning Commission on April 23 signed off on a  conditional use permit for Sunray Energy to construct a 44-megawatt solar photovoltaic electricity generation facility in Daggett.
Located at 35100 Santa Fe Street, the project will replace an existing concentrating solar power facility built in 1984, which was owned by Southern California Edison (SCE) and authorized by the California Energy Commission. The existing facility, which has been acquired by Sunray, generates solar thermal electricity using 25-foot high mirrors which track the sun and focus the solar rays on a tower to produce heat. The heat is concentrated into a heat transfer fluid, a synthetic petroleum product known as therminol, which is then run through a heat converter to produce steam used to run a turbine to produce electricity.
In February 1999, a heat transfer fluid fire began in the on-site therminol tanks. With the fire department standing by, over a two day period, the heat transfer fluid fire was allowed to burn itself out. There were no injuries, but extensive property damage. The therminol tanks were removed and the contaminated soil was treated.
Subsequent Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments showed that no recognized environmental conditions exist as a result of the fire.
Sunray Energy last week sought, and the planning commission gave, approval to replacing the existing heat conversion system into a solar facility using photovoltaic cells.  All existing power generation equipment will be demolished and removed. Several existing on-site structures will remain.
According to the county’s land use services staff report on the project, “Planned facilities are proposed to include photovoltaic panels mounted on single axis trackers, supported by steel piles. The photovoltaic panels are proposed to be a maximum height of 20 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.”
The new facility will be constructed in phases on approximately 333 acres approximately one quarter mile north of Santa Fe Street, west of the logical extension of 1st Street, unofficially named Sunray Lane and/or Luz Lane.
“Phase 1 (20 megawatts) and 10 megawatts of phase 2 will interconnect to an existing SCE 115kV transmission line on the interior of the site near the southern boundary, while the remainder of phase 2 will interconnect to the existing SCE 33kV transmission line on the interior of the site north of the logical extension of Silver Valley Road,” according to the staff report. “Power lines will continue to be overhead. The site is currently surrounded by a slatted chain link perimeter fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. As a condition of project approval, the existing barbed wire will be removed. The electric power produced by the current Solar Energy Generating Systems I & II, which comprise the Sunray Energy solar thermal or CSP plant, continues to be sold to SCE under long-term power purchase agreement that will expire December 31, 2015. The applicant has executed a new, 20-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The new PG&E power purchase agreement has a commercial operation date of December 1, 2016.”
According to the staff report on the project, which was ratified by the planning commission’s vote, the project has “consistency with the county’s general plan and zoning regulations: The current general plan land use designation for the proposed project area is regional industrial (IR). This designation allows development of renewable energy generation facilities with a conditional use permit as requested by the project applicant. The photovoltaic project is proposed because the existing equipment is at the end of its life. The new technology is more efficient, more cost effective, and better on the environment. The proposed photovoltaic facility is less impactful than the existing concentrating solar power facility. The photovoltaic facility will reduce the height of the panels from 25 feet to a maximum of 20 feet. Water usage will be dramatically reduced because the photovoltaic facility requires no water for cooling. The photovoltaic facility does not use heat transfer fluid, which eliminates the need for cooling towers, evaporation ponds, and land treatment units. The existing concentrating solar power facility produces approximately 10,000 metric tons of direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year while generating electricity; the project will not produce any GHG emissions to generate electricity. Furthermore, elimination of heat transfer fluid and the associated high temperatures reduces the possibility of another fire.”
Also, according to the staff report, “Because the site is within a biotic resources overlay area with the potential to support desert tortoise and burrowing owl, SummitWest Environmental, Inc. conducted a survey of the site and prepared a focused survey for the desert tortoise & western burrowing owl report in March 2015. Results of the report were that no desert tortoise or burrowing owl individuals were found and no evidence was observed that would indicate their recent or historic occurrence on site. SummitWest concluded that desert tortoise and burrowing owl are absent from the site.”
According to the staff report, roughly seven to ten people will be employed at the facility.
Despite the desirability from an environmental perspective of a transition to renewable sources of energy on a macro level, at the immediate land use level, many regional environmentalists are opposed to building solar projects in the desert. Those opponents have one month to file an appeal of the planning commission’s approval to the board of supervisors.

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