The long corridor of desert land between Interstate 10 and State Route 62 has been slated for the last few years to become the center of utility-scale solar power development, home to the proposed Riverside East Solar Energy Zone. Now, one of the largest towns in that corridor will be deciding whether to ban commercial solar fields within its borders.
On September 4, Twentynine Palms' Planning Commission asked its City Council to set a policy barring commercial solar projects from the city. "I'm in favor of solar on homes, on businesses and on city-owned properties," Commissioner Bill Easter told reporter Rebecca Unger of the local newspaper The Desert Trail. "But as a community, commercial solar fields are incompatible with the city of Twentynine Palms. I do not agree with solar fields at all in our community."
The Planning Commission's suggested ban also extends to the city's official Sphere of Influence, which covers about 30 square miles of desert east and north of the city limits.
In addition to the request for a prohibition on solar, the Commission also submitted extensive suggested changes to the Code that would strictly limit solar development in the city.
This isn't a change of course for the Planning Commission: Commissioners have made plain their opposition to utility-scale commercial solar development for some months. This month's action by the Commission is the result of a mandate by the City Council that the Commission reevaluate and amend the City's Development Code to provide guidelines for solar development, a mandate the City Council issued in response to previous Commission recommendations that solar be barred from the City.
The Commission's recommendation is notable for its failure to pull punches:
Through the extensive review of the issue completed in numerous Study Sessions and Public Hearings, the Commission concludes that it cannot be demonstrated that allowing the development of Commercial Solar Fields shall provide a direct, tangible benefit to the community through the provision of improved community infrastructure, increased personal, sales, or property taxes, or provide reasonable and sustainable, long term employment to residents or visitors to our community, and whereas Commercial Solar Fields can be shown to have direct, adverse impacts to the aesthetic quality of the desert vistas the community now enjoys, deleterious effects to the tourist industry that the community depends on, potential adverse impacts to property values for the properties adjoining or surrounding such facilities, potential decreases in the quality of life for those individuals that reside with properties adjacent to or surrounding such facilities, and potential serious impacts to the biologic, cultural and social resources of our community. Under this conclusion, the commission must recommend that "Commercial Solar Fields" should be listed within all land use tables of the Development Code... as a "Prohibited Use."
The Twentynine Palms City Council has not yet formally discussed the recommendation.