Using State Renewable Energy Priority Solar Farm Proponents Bypassing 29 Palms Officials’ Land Use Authority

The State of California’s renewable energy mandates and the determination of Twentynine Palms officials to control municipality’s destiny by reserving for themselves local land use authority have come into conflict as a developmental concern has embarked on an effort to establish a 175-acre solar power farm at the western end of the city’s 58.76 square mile confines.
Temecula-based E-Group PS, including its two managing principals, Martin Melicharek and Toma Oresansky, its registered agent, Peter Bobro, along with its representatives K&L Gates and Robert Smith, has lodged a request with the Twentynine Palms Community Development Department for a permit to construct a solar farm to be located on approximately 175 acres located on all or part of Assessor’s Parcel Numbers 0612-201-05 and 0612-201-01.
As such, the facility is to be located on the north side of Two Mile Road and west of Sunrise Road.Twentynine Palm’s development code as currently framed does not permit the development of commercial solar farms. E-Group PS, however, is pursuing the project, based upon a special dispensation contained in recently adopted law – Assembly Bill 205, by which land use authority over a proposed solar energy project is deferred to the state if the local agency in which that authority normally is installed will not process the permit application.
The Sentinel is informed that Smith, in his discussion with city staff, offered to adhere to standards the city would impose if clearance for the project within the 175-acre footprint were to be granted.
Unknown is the precise nature of the project, including whether An issue is whether the solar plant will consist of photovoltaic cells or a design involving variable-angle mirrors that track the sun and are trained on a series of glass tubes containing therminol, a synthetic petroleum product capable of sustaining a temperature of between 700 to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which would then be pumped into a condenser and put into contact with water, and thus converted to steam to run a turbine.
At issue is whether city officials will surrender its land use jurisdiction entirely to the state and seek to impose regulations and conditions by proxy or accept and process the application by means of amendments to the general plan and development code and the granting of a conditional use permit, thereby directly dictating standards, regulations and the conditions of approval, including obtaining a development agreement with E-Group PS that includes a public benefit provision or special tax on the revenue the company realizes from electricity sales. If the city does participate as the lead agency on the project, the city council would be the ultimate decision-making body and arbiter on issues relating to the environmental certification of the project carried out under the auspices of the California Environmental Quality Act. As such, it could require that E-Group PS’s project undergo the most exacting form of environmental certification, that being a environmental impact report.
An environmental impact report, the most involved type of environmental analysis and certification there is, consists of an involved study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources. An environmental impact report specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts.
There are less exacting types of environmental certification than a full-blown environmental impact report, ranging from an environmental assessment to an environmental examination to a mitigated negative declaration to a negative declaration.
If the city council chose to do so, it could allow E-Group PS to proceed subject to a far less expensive negative declaration process. A mitigated negative declaration would be a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with the city’s ultimate land use authority, as in the case of Twentynine Palms either the city council or the planning commission, would issue a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.

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