San Bernardino County's Land Use Services Department and Board of Supervisors are trying to keep up with the gold rush of the century as various energy companies seek to build vast solar and wind energy projects in the Mojave Desert, the bulk of which lies within County lines. The County's priorities are predictably economic, but this has led County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt to speak out against the acquisition and preservation of land to off-set the loss of Desert tortoise habitat in Ivanpah, according to an article in the Press Enterprise. You can read more about the mitigation requirement on my previous post on the subject.
The County assesses that the preservation of tortoise land as a mitigation strategy would lock up land and preclude other economic activity. Mitzelfelt and Brightsource seem to favor a different mitigation scenario that does not involve setting aside land, but instead funding tortoise research and existing preservation efforts. While biologists did testify that current tortoise recovery efforts are under-funded, land acquisition and preservation remains an important mitigation strategy due to the increasing demands from military training, population growth, and the rush of renewable energy applications for Mojave Desert land.
The County may also be raising its voice in the solar energy debate because it seeks to ensure that jobs for construction and operation of the solar projects benefit County residents, as opposed to neighboring jurisdictions, such as Las Vegas. According to the County's Land Use Service's website, the County also recently changed its zoning districts to accommodate energy development. Although the altered zoning code's stated purpose is to "ensure that renewable energy generation facilities are designed and located in a manner that minimizes visual and safety impacts on the surrounding community," the code does little else but to establish setback from nearby roads and dictate the type of fencing for solar projects. (Section 84.29 of the Title 8 Development Code). For wind energy, the county sets the height limit for wind turbines at 500 feet.