First Solar Meddling in Riverside County Election?

First Solar is putting its money behind a candidate running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors who has a long record of turning a blind eye to toxic chemicals in our community and environment, according to campaign finance records.  First Solar almost certainly is trying to position itself to influence Riverside County policies after the current Board of Supervisors instituted a per acre fee on industrial scale solar facilities in the desert region.  The Board in November approved the fee for solar projects larger than 20 megawatts because such large facilities in remote areas incur substantial burden on county services and also are a cause of visual blight with new transmission lines.  The fees can be offset by various incentives if, for example, the solar developers do not require new transmission lines or if they hire local workers.

The costs of providing county services to industrial solar projects can be substantial.  Inyo County calculated that BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System would impose approximately $11,000,000 of extra burden on county taxpayers during construction, and $1,700,000 in annual costs during operation, according to documents submitted to the California Energy Commission (CEC).

First Solar representatives from Oakland apparently traveled down to Riverside for the board meeting in November to voice opposition to the project fees, according to county records.  Before Riverside County voted to approve the fee in November,  First Solar's lawyers (San Francisco-based firm Morrison/Foerster), sent a letter threatening the County that such fees were against the law, and that the County would be held accountable for any delays in its 6 square mile Desert Sunlight project. The Desert Sunlight facility will be built on ecologically intact desert habitat just outside Joshua Tree National Park, and will require a transmission line interconnection through the town of Desert Center.

First Solar Puts Money Behind a Walking Environmental Disaster
Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries
In an attempt to bully its way into Riverside politics, First Solar in November gave $1,000 dollars to Kevin Jeffries, a candidate for Riverside County District 1 Supervisor (Lake Elsinore area).  Jeffries is running against incumbent Riverside County Chairman Bob Buster (District 1), who supported the fee on industrial-scale solar projects as "the responsible thing to do," according to the Desert Independent.  Kevin Jeffries currently serves in the California Assembly, and in 2011 and 2010 he voted against bills (AB 1319, SB 797) that would prohibit bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups.   In 2009 he voted against a California bill (AB 920) that allowed utility companies to pay rooftop solar owners for surplus electricity given to the grid.  So we're supposed to bend over backwards for industrial solar, and say no to compensating homeowners and keeping carcinogens away from babies?  Mr. Jeffries voted against a long list of other bills that would ensure clean air and water in a rather extensive voting record that shows more respect for corporations than people.  Jeffries' voting record was given a score of 11% by the California League of Conservation Voters.

First Solar Contributions

Other County Recipient Not Influenced by First Solar Cash?
Before Riverside County voted on the industrial solar fee, First Solar also provided $1,000 to Jeff Stone, who currently serves as Riverside County Supervisor for District 3.  Mr. Stone, however, approved of the industrial solar fee at the November vote.  Regarding the fee on industrial solar, Mr Stone told the press that "[o]ur citizens should be compensated for the ambiance of the desert being forever scarred," said Supervisor Jeff Stone. "The demand for this electricity is being created by the coastal communities. We're sacrificing the desert for the benefit of the coast."  Mr. Stone is also a supporter of more sensible and efficient local clean energy, and has argued in favor of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which would allow homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements and install solar panels on rooftop through their own property taxes.

In this aerial photo taken by Chris Clarke, you can see the desert bulldozed by First Solar for just a fraction of its 6 square mile Desert Sunlight solar project in Riverside County. Much more of the desert habitat has probably been bulldozed by now.
First Solar Lurking in Sacramento
Of further concern for California residents, First Solar appears to be on a campaign to win influence over policymakers in the California state legislature.  Campaign finance records show that the company has donated to California legislators that are assigned to committees responsible for regulating the utility industry and adjusting environmental review for industrial-scale energy projects.  The company gave $3,900 to John Perez, who is the speaker of the California Assembly and has substantial control over the legislative agenda.  Nancy Skinner, who is a member of the California Assembly's Utilities and Commerce Committee, as well as Natural Resources Committee, received $3,500.  Michael Rubio, a California State Senate member, received $2,000 and has introduced legislation (SB 16) that would rush the environmental review process for industrial scale renewable energy projects (a recipe for disaster).

The Large Scale Solar Association Political Action Committee (PAC), of which First Solar is a member, has also been busy lobbying state lawmakers.  The PAC has given money to many of the same legislators already reached by First Solar, including Skinner and Rubio.   The PAC also donated to a fundraising committee established by Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes.  In September Fuentes received $1,000 from the PAC, and in February he introduced emergency legislation that helped clear a bureaucratic roadblock for K Road Power's Calico Solar power project.  The Calico Solar power project is opposed by many conservation groups because it would destroy nearly 7 square miles of ecologically important desert habitat.

I guess solar energy corporations are people.  I just wish I had won the lottery so my elected officials would listen to me, too.


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