The Kern County Board of Supervisors is reevaluating its approach to permitting new solar projects partly in response to state energy policies members say disproportionately hurt Kern County.
On Tuesday, the board delayed a vote on a 1,250-acre solar power generation site near Rosamond to further discuss the environmental impacts of the project as well as the greater context of state solar policies.
The move comes as tensions between county leaders and policymakers in Sacramento have increased.
A state tax incentive that temporarily prevents the collection of property tax on solar power properties costs the county an estimated $19.9 million per year. Meanwhile, supervisors see recent changes to oil policies as threatening one of the county’s staple industries.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the end of all California oil production by 2045, and the state recently denied 21 fracking applications from Aera Energy, a potential signal of things to come.
State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, has urged the supervisors to impose a universal moratorium on new large-scale solar projects in response to the permit denial.
Despite Grove's letter, no mention of a moratorium was made Tuesday. Still, some board members said the county’s role in solar power production needs to be evaluated moving forward.
“When the governor comes out and just arbitrarily denies 21 permits for local businesses with no science and no reasoning behind it, that really forces the board to say, ‘OK we have to do something to protect our residents and local businesses,’” board Chairman Phillip Peters said in a phone interview.
According to a December study by the Kern County Department of Planning and Natural Resources, 36 large-scale solar facilities, encompassing 36,000 acres, exist in the unincorporated areas of the county. Another 27,000 acres worth of projects, which could generate 4,600 megawatts of electricity and 6,500 megawatt hours of battery storage, were scheduled to be considered in the future as of December.
“We are committing large amounts of land to this one type of land use, and we need a full understanding of the fiscal contributions, consequences and how to address this issue,” Supervisor Zack Scrivner wrote in an email to The Californian. “This needs to be addressed locally on each project as it is our authority to approve or deny these projects, not the state.”
The first project to be impacted by this new approach to solar permitting appears to be the Raceway 2.0 Solar Project.
Rosamond residents have brought up concerns over the project’s proximity to their community. However, Raceway seems to have gotten caught up in the broader conversation of oil versus solar when it came before the board for approval.
On Tuesday, Scrivner brought up the solar property tax exclusion, the state’s plan to phase out oil production, and a state law that limits development on farmland when discussing the project.
“I feel I need more time to evaluate this project and the renewable energy land use situation in general,” he said. “Frankly I’m still undecided given the state policies that we are encountering. Our property tax and sales tax revenue is being hit by the state on all fronts.”
Proposed by the Virginia-based AES Corp., the project would produce 271 megawatts of renewable electricity and offset an estimated 500,000 tons of carbon emissions.
Raceway 2.0 is scheduled to return before the board on Aug. 24.
Most solar power produced in Kern County benefits cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, a sticking point of critics of the state’s energy policies. Local officials believe the state’s green energy goals would not be possible without the county’s cooperation.
Conversely, industry representatives have said solar projects would not be financially feasible without the property tax exclusion, an impasse that leaves little room for change.
“I’m sure the board will have a broader discussion just based on the policy with the solar industry moving forward,” Peters said of the Aug. 24 discussion. “We hope that the governor penalizing the oil industry for these purely political reasons will come to an end, and will agree to work with the county instead of keeping it in the crosshairs like he has been.”