Fate of Newberry in the Balance

The months of April and May appear to be the months that will determine the fate of many desert communities in San Bernardino and perhaps other desert counties for many years to come.

For decades, siting energy projects in the desert, both fossil and renewables has been the rule with siting in urban or suburban areas becoming verboten to avoid offending the frail sensibilities of their residents, the quality of life and maintenance of scarce resources in desert areas becoming secondary to urban appetites devouring rural people’s lands, resources, and taxes, those appetites increasingly concentrated in the desert.

Photovoltaic energy is possibly the only industrial process requiring such inordinately vast commitments of land for public or private use, 5.5 acres per megawatt an accepted average according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with their locations in communities threatening now to push desert residents from their properties when favoring locations close to existing power conversion facilities and transmission lines.

Such intrusion of massive solar in Silver Valley is no-one’s surprise. Daggett has historically been host to relatively minor solar projects, mostly thermal solar, but now hosts photovoltaic sites as well on the sites that were formerly thermal and arbitrarily approved by County Planning for “similar” use.

But the new project is truly massive occupying thirty-five hundred acres of additional land and will have disastrous consequences for the Newberry Springs area from blowing sand, as well as overuse and abuse of our other resources such as water.

Not to be outdone, just down the road from the Daggett monstrosity there is another twelve hundred acre travesty planned for Newberry itself, just North and East of Minneola Road, having been titled Minneola Solar. Thus we are now faced with about five thousand acres of solar development, and throwing in existing solar development which was allowed because it 'already' existed in another form will bring the area occupied by such development to about ten square miles.

The Daggett project is truly the linchpin for solar development in Silver Valley with its related devastation to areas of rural living downwind of these projects and approval for this project doesn’t seem far off unless Newberry can make a solid case against it.

Objections have been raised against both projects both by snail mail, and email from Newberry to many county agencies, and speakers from the Property Owners and the NSEDA have expressed their views at many County Supervisor meetings as well, but the first opportunity to speak face to face with County Planning (Tom Nievez) will be on April 11th , 4 – 7 P.M. at the Daggett Community Center, The formal notification for this meeting is available at the County Planning Site.

It should be incumbent on as many Newberry residents as possible who oppose these projects to attend this meeting in Daggett to dilute local enthusiasm from a community which, expecting trivial benefits from these projects, appears to support both of them to the detriment of neighboring communities, and to counter the specious arguments that will inevitably be presented by developers and their attorneys.

Not to be outdone, in late May there will be an attempt by County Planning to revise and degrade the language of the Renewable Energy Conservation Element (RECE), which is a document to be added to the County Development Code outlining the approval process for solar projects.

Original language in the RECE, from August of 2017 prohibited development of utility-oriented renewable energy projects in Rural Living (RL) land use districts throughout the County as well as other areas where they may be prohibited by local community plans. Newberry contains many RL parcels interspersed with other land use types.

New language in that RECE, which appears to have been formulated solely by major developers no longer prohibits the siting of utility-scale solar projects in RL districts. The language revision is described on the County Land Use Services (LUS) site.

So this planning meeting should be attended as well to help prevent solar developers and their attorneys from dominating that discussion as well. We’ll be at both of these meetings. Hope you can make it too.