EL CENTRO – Concerns from the public rose during the Tuesday Board of Supervisor meeting as citizens protested the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) draft that targets farmland for further development of alternative energy while leaving the untouched desert alone.
The DRECP is meant to provide renewable project developers with permit timing and cost certainty while operating under federal and California Endangered Species Acts, which is why many citizens intimated that environmentalists preferred taking out farmland to untouched pristine desert for future projects.
Many supervisors expressed desire to use the desert and not farmland. Michael Kelley (District 3) said, â€œI have stated before that I prefer that solar projects not be placed on farmland.â€
Ryan Kelley (District 4) agreed, â€œWhere we work and play, thatâ€™s where they put the grid lines to build.â€
Donna Tisdale spoke first during public comments, stating she represented two groups, Backcountry Against Dumps, and The Protect Our Communities Foundation, and she is of a multi-generational farming family. Tisdale reminded the board that 69,000 acres are available for development, which was 27,000 acres more than the 2nd highest targeted area, San Bernardino.
She recommended solar construction over parking lots that had multi-beneficial effects of providing energy, shade, and reducing what is known as heat island effect.
Edie Harmon of Ocotillo cited the Cerrell Report that in 1984, the California Waste Management Board paid the Los Angeles consulting firm, Cerrell Associates, $500,000 to define communities that wonâ€™t resist siting of LULUs or Locally Undesirable Land Use. Cerrell found that urban, educated areas would fight to keep undesirable uses of land out, but the least likely to resist were Southern, Midwestern communities, Rural communities, Open to promises of economic benefits, Conservative, Republican, Free-Market, Above Middle Age, High school or less education, Low income, Catholics, Not involved in social issues, Old-time residents (20 years+) and have â€œNature exploitive occupationsâ€ (farming, ranching, mining).
Harman said the planners expected us to not fight back.
Carolyn Allen strongly suggested putting solar on top of existing buildings, â€œThis creates jobs without negatively impacting other businesses.â€ Allen also reminded the board that solar farms endanger the valleyâ€™s existing water rights. â€œAfter 30 years of solar on a farm, state and federal powers can argue that we are not using the water for beneficial reasons.â€
Already fallowing, mandated by the QSA, and solar farms has damaged the farming environment. â€œI have a son,â€ Allen said, â€œand he is having trouble finding rental ground to farm. He is competing with solar projects and they are driving all the rental ground up and have made buying ground extremely expensive.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t want to be a sacrificing area for ill-conceived renewable energy plans made by environmental lawyers,â€ Allen added.
Linsey Dale, Imperial County Farm Bureau, echoed many of the sentiments before her.
However, when questioned by Supervisor Michael Kelley, who asked, â€œWhat about farmers that want to sell their farmland to solar? Who are we to tell landowners what to do with their property? By the time the issue gets here, the decision has already been made to sell to the solar developer. We just make sure that they follow regulatory laws.â€
Linsey agreed with the concept of strong property rights, but added, â€œThat is why this land plan is so important. It needs to be drawn so it is best for the Imperial Valley. Putting solar in the desert helps the valley, putting solar on farmland is detrimental.â€
Linsey added that the federal government made adding solar farms to BLM lands so restrictive that the projects naturally go to farmland.
The DRECP is still in draft form, and the comment period, originally scheduled to close on January 9, 2015, will be extended through February 23, 2015. A recorded informational webinar to help the public navigate the DRECP documents is available at www.drecp.org. The website also contains instructions for providing written comments on the draft document.