Sunday, October 30, 2011

Solar Projects Key to State Energy Goals

Large- scale solar projects east of the the Coachella Valley will play a key role in California's drive to produce 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but the region may need to prop up its high-intensity sun, wind and geothermal assets with better planning.

That was the message emerging from Thursday's meeting of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership's Renewable Energy Roundtable in Palm Desert, where state and county officials presented updates on solar development and the ongoing negotiations on Riverside County's proposed solar fee.

Michael Picker, senior adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown on renewable energy projects, said large- scale solar plants now in the works — such as First Solar's Desert Sunlight and NextEra's Genesis projects in the Riverside East solar zone — could put the state over its 33 percent goal as early as 2017.

“There's a fairly robust pipeline of projects going on. We're seeing projects and contracts that compete with natural gas in terms of prices,” he said.

Brown signed legislation earlier this year committing the state to reach the 33 percent level by 2020.

The Riverside East zone covers 202,000 acres of public land between Joshua Tree National Park and Blythe.

The state's ability to get projects there and in other regions permitted and under construction shows that its environmental regulations are not deal- killers, Picker said.

Still, smart planning is needed to balance renewable energy development with local environmental and social impacts, he said.

A case in point is the current deadlock between solar industry leaders and Riverside County officials over proposals for a fee to compensate the region for the impacts of solar projects.

Supervisor John J. Benoit originally proposed that solar companies pay a 2 per cent fee on gross revenues from large-scale projects.

Negotiations are focusing instead on a fee based on a per-acre formula, said Michelle DeArmond, Benoit's chief of staff.

Solar industry officials counter that if the county is linking the fee to long-term impacts, it must quantify those effects with a study that also looks at similar fees in other counties.

“Until it does that, it can't get the fee right,” said Jim Woodruff, First Solar's vice president for government affairs.


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