Board Of Supervisors Upholds Planning Commission Okay Of Daggett Solar Farm

Upholding the county’s planning commission and over the objections of a contingent of local residents, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday granted San Francisco-based Clearway Energy Group license to proceed with a massive, 3,500-acre solar-generating facility near the Barstow-Daggett Airport.
On September 19, 2019, the county’s planning commission gave approval to the project involving six conditional permits that collectively provided for the construction and operation of a 650-megawatt photovoltaic solar power generating facility, including 450 megawatts of of battery storage, to be built in phases over the 3,500-acre project site. Clearway made the application under the veil of a limited liability company known as Daggett Solar Power Facility 1. The commission made findings and imposed conditions of approval that included major variances to exceed the allowed height limits and allow transmission structures and lines up to a maximum of 159 feet with findings that their placement was needed and justified. The commission approved a tentative parcel map to consolidate the 51 existing parcels into 15 parcels, made findings and gave certification of a final environmental impact report. The commission also provided statements of overriding consideration, and signed off on a mitigation monitoring reporting program, including approval of a water supply assessment.
On September 30, 2019, the Newberry Community Services District filed with the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors an appeal of the San Bernardino County Planning Commission’s approval of the Daggett Solar Power Facility.
The Newberry Community Services District is the closest approximation of a local government authority in the area, providing fire protection, parks and recreation and street lighting services to residents in Daggett and Newberry Springs.
The district, on behalf of the Daggett and Newberry Springs populace, decried inadequacies in the environmental documents compiled by Clearway’s consultants which were filed in keeping with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Clearway’s filing of the application for the project predated the board of supervisors’ approval of a policy last February which prohibits utility-scale renewable energy development in rural zones and most of the county’s unincorporated districts. That policy restricted development of something along the lines of Clearway’s project to areas already in agricultural or mining use and the remote outlying areas of Amboy, El Mirage, Hinkley, Kramer Junction and Trona. Because the Newberry/Daggett project proposal was already being processed by the land use services division, those restrictions did not apply, although the county made use of them in its analysis.
The ban carried with it a loophole allowing solar or wind power project proponents to seek a general plan amendment, or a boundary change, to allow such a project to proceed if a proponent has a site that otherwise meets the county’s criteria for a renewable energy project but is within a prohibited zone. The supervisors have discretion to grant such an exception.
County Land Use Services Director Terri Rahhal said that the sole snag in the application under the new standards the county is applying is that a portion of the project’s footprint involves some parcels zoned for rural neighborhoods. Otherwise, she said, the project meets the requirements that the land was previously used for agricultural purposes, and it is proximate to other energy facilities and transmission lines.
According to a document entitled “Consistency Assessment with General Plan Policies and Objectives”  generated by the county’s land use services division, “The project is compatible and harmonious with surrounding properties and land uses. The project provides an important source of clean and renewable energy. The project is properly sited adjacent to existing energy infrastructure and is compatible with surrounding land uses.”
One of the objections the appellants had raised was the project’s untoward impact on air quality. As was stated in the appeal, “The health hazards and the damage to homes, property and property values from airborne dust are major concerns of local residents.”
The county’s land use services division responded, “Currently over 60 percent of the project site is disturbed, mostly by agricultural and other uses that contribute to blowing sand and dust. In compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, the final environmental impact report provides extensive information and analysis describing the air basin in which the project is located and the project’s potential air quality impacts.”
The document did not say, however, that the described impacts were mitigated.
Another objection was the concentration of energy at the site. The appellants said this constituted a “hazard. The amount of energy that Clearway proposes to store on-site in lithium-ion battery storage systems is staggering. At full power, the recently decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station had the capacity to generate 2,150 million watts of electrical energy. Clearway proposes to store 450 million watts of electrical energy in lithium-ion batteries. This is almost one-quarter as much energy as the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station produced.”
The county’s land use services division responded, “Clearway’s battery storage system will have a number of advanced safety features not present at the battery storage project referenced in the appeal to ensure a higher level of safety and protection for the Daggett energy storage systems. Clearway will use small cabinets about the size of a household refrigerator designed and tested to isolate and extinguish an internal battery fire prior to it spreading to any nearby batteries, thus isolating the fire event to much less than 1 percent of the total energy storage system facility.”
The turnout for the board hearing Tuesday included a large number of Daggett and Newberry Springs residents opposed to the project. Clearway sought to counter that with the presence of Clearway’s senior director of development, James Kelly, and a number of blue-collar construction workers and union members who spoke in favor of the project because of the employment it would provide them. Those who commented on the project during the public input portion of the hearing were Sheri Buchanan, David Buchanan, Robert Shaw, Robert Kasner, Carl Pugh, Jesse Wright, Thomas Ruiz, Margie Roberts, Justin Dillman, Brian Fisher, Donna Alvord, Adam Kington, Linda Parker, Ted Stimpfel, Fred Stearn, Glen Van Dam, Andron Harter, Sean L. Swoboda, Tim Rohm, Jay Lindberg, Bill Perez, Paul Smith, Steve Bardwell and Constance Walsh.
Kelly acknowledged there were “seven or eight” homes in close proximity to the project’s later phases, with one that will be less than a football field away, at roughly 185 feet.
Kelly’s statement that Daggett Solar Power Facility 1 will comply with the board’s wish that the solar field be placed somewhat further away from the existing nearby homes and that his company would endeavor to monitor and control dust and deal with air quality issues at the site convinced the supervisors, on a motion by Supervisor Robert Lovingood seconded by Supervisor Janice Rutherford, to unanimously uphold the planning commission’s approval of the undertaking, with an amendment that the developer address the project setback requirement to lessen the impact on nearby homes.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply