Saturday, October 27, 2012

Solar Project's Permit Overturned

Rescinding permits for approved development projects is something the county Board of Supervisors seldom faces at its meetings, which is why Tuesday’s decision to rescind the permits behind a 50-megawatt solar project in Calipatria is arguably a rarity.

The request to reverse the approval of Calipatria Solar Farm II came from the applicant, said Armando Villa, director of the Imperial County Planning Department, “as a result of settlement negotiations.”

The project — approved by the board in November — had been involved in a lawsuit since December, said Salvador Salazar, a representative for the applicant 8minutenergy Renewables.

And one of the settlement’s components was to rescind the project, said Salazar, who pointed out that Donna Tisdale and Carolyn Allen — activists who oppose solar development on farmland — were involved in the lawsuit.

A member of the Protect Our Communities Foundation, the environmental organization to which Tisdale and Allen belong, stated that Tisdale did not wish to comment on this story. Allen, meanwhile, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The project in question would have been built on some 560-acres of private “low-quality farm ground,” said Salazar, and there was a public benefit agreement associated with this project.

But solar projects being placed on farm land is a long-standing concern for some residents and agencies in the agricultural industry, as they are thought to displace agricultural jobs.

While solar projects are known to create hundreds of construction jobs, these numbers drop to the dozens once construction is done.

This is in part why voluntary public benefit agreements were put in place, said Andy Horne, deputy county executive officer for natural resources. These funds, he said, will be used to offset negative impacts and to create jobs.

In this case, a public benefit agreement worth about $1 million was lost, said Horne, who noted the jobs and tax revenue associated with the project are also at risk.

“I would hope (this) is just a temporary setback,” he said, as “my understanding is that they (the developer) are now going to go back and do an environmental impact report.”

This report could take up to a year to complete, said Horne, who then explained the project was first approved with a study called mitigated negative declaration, which identifies potential impacts to the area and establishes a mitigation plan.

To approve a project with a mitigated negative declaration is lawful, Horne said, but this study is less intensive and weaker than an environmental impact report. Meaning it is also less defendable if a lawsuit is presented under the California Environmental Quality Act, he said.

But if rescinding permits is arguably rare, Horne suggests that lawsuits against development projects are becoming everything but that.

“We are seeing almost every one of them being challenged in court by various people who are concerned with the impacts that these projects are going to have,” he said, adding that even the geothermal projects are being challenged.

A report submitted to the board also on Tuesday shows that at least eight approved solar projects are involved in lawsuits while one recommended for approval by the Planning Commission has been appealed.

And Horne, who points out that labor unions and environmental groups are many times behind the lawsuits, said he doesn’t expect this pattern to change.


No comments: