Newberry Springs Solar Proposal Draws Opposition

A proposal to construct a 3 Mega-Watt solar power station in Newberry Springs--which was conditionally approved by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission earlier this year--is drawing opposition from neighbors who contend that the Rural Living zoning of the area should preclude industrial scale solar projects.  The site, which would encompass 80 acres and would be built by Solutions for Utilities, is located among disturbed and fallow agricultural land west of the proposed Calico Solar Power project site.  The opposition to the Solutions for Utilities project brings attention to a developing angle in the "solar rush" taking place in the Mojave--pressure placed on rural communities to accept the industrial scale development that should not occur in pristine wilderness, but that would disrupt quality of life in more populated areas.

The appeal by the opponents of the site will be heard by the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors at tonight's (13 July) meeting.  The appeal could have an impact on how solar development is carried forward in the Mojave Desert (most of which falls in San Bernardino County's jurisdiction).   Several solar power projects of much larger size are being considered in more remote Mojave Desert wilderness, and opponents of those larger projects encourage solar power development in areas of less ecological value.  Areas such as Newberry Springs would typically fit the profile of sites deemed ideal by conservationists.  The Abengoa Solar and Beacon Solar power projects are examples of separate projects in the Mojave that would both be built on fallow agricultural land.

The debate will not go away after the County's decision tonight since the "gold rush" of solar projects in the Mojave is unlikely to slow over the next year.  This will lead to more proposed projects in areas like Newberry Springs, and also more remote areas.  The interests of citizens living in rural areas of the Mojave Desert--on the fringes of population centers such as the Victor Valley and Barstow--and the readiness for these areas to accept more industrial development probably will determine the political feasibility of encouraging more solar development in rural areas instead of less disturbed habitat.  It also ultimately underscores the ideal solution of "distributed energy", which would involve placing renewable energy production in the user's backyard through rooftop solar panels or backyard windmills, rather than large industrial-sized projects that destroy natural resources or place large industries in quiet rural neighborhoods.

That said, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is unlikely to favor the project for the reasons of preserving other more sensitive desert lands since the County has generally shown its willingness to accept any and all damage that industrial scale energy generation brings to the Mojave.  The county has already expressed dissatisfaction with State and Federal Agency plans to set aside Mojave Desert habitat for conservation purposes, arguing that conservation efforts could "lock up" more land from development, apparently in favor of transforming most of the County's open space into an industrial free-for-all.

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