BRAWLEY â€“ Andy Horne, Deputy County Executive Officer and Â Brian Mooney, a consultant hired by the county, led a public forum at the Brawley Lionâ€™s Center concerning re-writing the County General Plan for growth in the Renewable Energy Sector.
â€œI hate to say we were blind-sided, but when the State passed a law mandating utilities have 33% of renewable energy in their portfolio, we suddenly had these large companies descend on the valley looking at our geothermal, and our solar and wind potential. We are a poor county, we couldnâ€™t afford to put together a general plan that costs a million dollars. We were at the mercy of events instead of charting our own course,â€ Horne told the people gathered to participate and learn.
With the help of State Assemblyman Manuel Perez, the county secured grants totaling over $1 million dollars to fund the modernizing of the General Plan that included more than just geothermal growth and incorporated preserving farm land, military expansion, recreational areas, and respecting environmental and cultural resources.
Mooney said it was part of the process to engage the public and their desires and concerns. â€œIt is easier to address your needs upfront, then try to redress problems once the General Plan has been approved.â€
Many issues were brought up in the audience that the presenters admitted hadnâ€™t been considered such as crop dusting needs.
The military has stated that the tall solar projects that take up less land but more air space might interfere with their practice aerial missions, and the concentrated solar projects that produce intense heat zones could interfere with the militaryâ€™s heat seeking missiles. However, no one had discussed the needs of crop dusters.
Other concerns were byproducts produced by the geothermal brine and where it would be stored.
Bruce Smith, a farmer with land next to a geothermal plant, warned about risks of sinking farm land such as he has experienced. Smith claimed the million-dollar damage he sustained came from the extracted heated liquids beneath his land.
Carolyn Allen raised the question of more agricultural land being used for solar fields and the loss of auxiliary income from agricultural suppliers.
Each of the questions was written down to be part of the overall process of developing a General Plan that would look 50 years into the future.
The County covers 4597 square miles with almost half belonging to the Federal Government split between the military and the Bureau of Land Management.
Eighteen percent is irrigated farmland, and 22% is private land in the desert and mountains. How to best use the countyâ€™s land assets for renewable energy is the focus for the next year and a half as the committee composed of county, agriculture, military and recreational stakeholders work to lay out the countyâ€™s General Plan.