60 Megawatt Solar Farm Proposed In Lucerne Valley

LUCERNE VALLEY—A Florida-based company has cleared the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Division’s preliminary application submission process to construct a 60 megawatt solar energy facility on 483 acres in Lucerne Valley.
That hurdle surmounted, NextEra Energy must now overcome the opposition of a contingent of local residents to bring what is officially dubbed the Ord Mountain Solar Project to fruition.
According to the application, the project is to be built on property entirely contained within assessor’s parcel numbers 0453-091-72; 0453-091-12; 0453-091-24; 0453-091-29; 0453-091-31; and 0453-091-48 located east of State Route 247, along Desert Lane, west of Meridian Road.
Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Resources is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, Inc., which touts itself as a leading clean energy company with consolidated revenues of approximately $16.2 billion, approximately 45,900 megawatts of generating capacity, which includes megawatts associated with noncontrolling interests related to NextEra Energy Partners, LP, and approximately 14,700 employees in 30 states and Canada.
NextEra’s corporate and renewable energy bona fides, however, have not won over a fair number of the residents in Lucerne Valley, who object to the placement of the facility proximate to preexisting homes in what is described as a low density desert neighborhood. According to those in opposition to the project, the solar field will intrude on the desert rusticity on three of its four sides.
A loose coalition of Lucerne Valley residents claim they and their community are “under siege” and want NextEra and the county to consider the alternate location of an area within Lucerne Valley referred to as Tamarisk Flats, which is a more remote area that yet features some residential properties, albeit ones that are fewer in number and which are more modest, featuring less intensive improvements.
The project opponents have armed themselves with philosophical and procedural arguments against the project. An industrial use such as the solar field will harm, they assert, their already modest property values. Moreover, the project will require the granting of a conditional use permit, as the zoning and land use restrictions in place in that portion of Lucerne Valley are not consistent with a solar farm and the board of supervisors, which ultimately will decide on final project approval, has discretion in the granting of such conditional use permits.
Lucerne Valley, however, has little in the way of political muscle. At an expansive 105.59 square miles, it boasts a population of 5,811, which is dwarfed by the populations of the incorporated municipalities in San Bernardino’s First District, which includes 123,000-population Victorville, 92,755-population Hesperia, 70,924-population Apple Valley and 31,765-population Adelanto. Only a portion of Lucerne Valley’s residents are up in arms against the project, such that even if they were to express their dissatisfaction with the outcome of a decision allowing the solar project to proceed to completion, their numbers would not be likely to sway the next election for county supervisor. At any rate, that election is some three-and three quarters years distant, when the incumbent, Robert Lovingood, is next scheduled to stand for reelection in 2020, if indeed he chooses to run once more.
Moreover, the Mojave Desert is widely perceived as ideal for, and has been federally designated to be the hosting grounds to, medium and large scale solar energy projects. In the most celebrated denial of a proposed solar project in the Mojave Desert, which occurred last year, the board of supervisors cited a rationale in denying the Soda Mountain project which is entirely at odds with the assertions the Ord Mountain project opponents are propounding. In August, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors denied both a ground water permit and the certification of the environmental review document for Regenerate Corporation’s Soda Mountain Solar Project, effectuating a significant setback to that proposed 287-megawatt output, 1,767 acre solar farm. In making that denial, the board acceded to the assertions of environmentalists that the project should not be located on remote and pristine desert land, and would have been better accommodated on already-disturbed property less distant from or within existing developed areas. The standard set down with that decision will make it difficult for the board to rationalize denying approval to a project that is just a little more than one fifth the size of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project and is to be located on land that was previously used or developed.
Accompanying the development of the solar field itself will be the Southern California Edison Company’s proposed Calcite Substation and associated facilities to interconnect the NextEra Energy Resources solar project to Edison’s existing Lugo-Pisgah No. 1 220 kilovolt transmission line. The Calcite Substation’s 220 kilovolt switchyard to accommodate the NextEra facility will be constructed on approximately 7 acres, with an additional six acres allotted for drainage, grading, and an access road. The loop-in to the Lugo-Pisgah No. 1 220 kilovolt transmission line at the Calcite Substation to accommodate the solar field will add a total of approximately 5,000 feet of new transmission line, consisting of two lines of approximately 2,500 feet located side-by-side within a corridor approximately 2,500 feet long. Edison will construct two structures to facilitate the connection of the NextEra tie-in line to the switchyard. Edison will also construct two towers to separate the crossing of the new 220 kilovolt transmission loop-in lines under two existing SCE 500 kilovolt lines along with approximately 2,000 feet of 12 kilovolt overhead distribution line and approximately 2,100 feet of underground distribution line.
There is concern among Lucerne Valley residents that the upgrade to the Lugo-Pisgah transition line will trigger a rash of applications for solar farms in the area.
Bill Lembright, a Lucerne Valley resident and president of Church of Our Lord and Savior in Lucerne Valley, said, “I object to this industrial renewable energy project proposed in one of Lucerne Valley’s rural neighborhood. This site is zoned for rural residential and is built up with neighborhood housing according to that zoning. The residents have sunk their life savings into these homes. Now wealthy outside investors are trying to make a fast buck off this tax-subsidized project while stealing the equity of these poor to moderate income landowners.”
Calling the project “immoral and despicable,” Lembright said, “The county should stop this project in its tracks. Not only will it rob these county residents of their equity, it will also dramatically lower the quality of life of these and other Lucerne Valley residents, myself, and members of our church, included. This project will also become a huge source of blowing sand and disrupt our native plants and wildlife. Water is scarce in the desert and should not be wasted on huge construction projects like this. Lucerne Valley has already insisted that the county, state, and federal government accept Tamarisk Flats as our one and only appropriate industrial renewable energy site, which will provide for our local communities’ electrical needs and allow the power we will no longer need from the state grid be used elsewhere where it is needed. Our own community microgrid will improve the quality of life in Lucerne Valley, increase property values, reduce the energy costs to our severely economically challenged residents, while freeing up what was previously our share of power off the state grid to be used where it is needed.”
Bryan Garner, a spokesman for NextEra, told the Sentinel the project would “deliver millions of property and sales tax dollars to San Bernardino County over its life and provide hundreds of construction jobs. This is a clean energy facility that will help California meet its renewable energy goals.”
Consisting of “photovoltaic panels that will track with the sun,” Garner said, “this will tie in with the energy grid and be built on previously disturbed farm land that will be repurposed for solar energy generation. This will use only a fraction of the water needed for agricultural purposes. We appreciate that people have questions but there will be a rigorous approval process and we look forward to resolving any problems with respect to any problems the project might represent and showing the benefits this project will provide.”

Leave a Reply