News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

2 Projects Fall to San Bernardino County's Solar Moratorium

Red-tagged Joshua trees on a Coronus project site in Joshua Tree | Photo: Chris Clarke

San Bernardino County's moratorium on solar projects in unincorporated areas is already making its mark on the landscape -- or more accurately, keeping marks from being made. Canadian developer Coronus Solar has just backed out of agreements to sell power from two mid-sized solar facilities near Twentynine Palms that have been stalled by the moratorium.

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The projects, 29 Palms North 2 and 3, would each have delivered up to 1.5 megawatts of power to Southern California Edison (SCE).

British Columbia-based Coronus has a few other proposed projects in San Bernardino County that are subject to the moratorium: Joshua Tree East, Apple Valley East, and Yucca Valley East -- which last, we note for purposes of full disclosure, is actually in Joshua Tree, two blocks upwind from ReWire's Mojave Desert HQ. The company's project in Adelanto is not affected by the moratorium, which covers only the county's unincorporated areas.

The company has also secured an extension on a $4 million loan from lender Clean Focus.

Coronus' projects were intended to sell power to SCE under the utility's California Renewable Energy Small Tariff (CREST) Tariff program, a feed-in tariff aimed at wholesale-scale distributed renewable energy projects of up to 1.5 megawatts in capacity. For perspective, 1.5 megawatts is the output of somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 typical rooftop solar arrays on single-family homes.

Coronus' projects as proposed tend to run in the 20-50 acre range. Though such projects may well seem small as compared with the large utility-scale projects in the desert that can run into thousands of acres, wholesale distributed solar projects like Coronus' can be fitted more easily into residential neighborhoods. Controversy over their siting may well prove to be a far more persistent issue than that with utility-scale desert solar, which an increasing number of analysts agree had likely peaked.

That's the reasoning behind the moratorium, which was passed in June and extended for a year in July: the county wants to craft a policy that will allow both developers and locals to be happy with the way these middle-sized solar installations are sited.

A potential boon of the moratorium for San Bernardino County residents considering rooftop solar: many of the wholesale projects would be hooked up to local distribution grids, potentially limiting the amount of rooftop solar that can also be hooked up to the same grid. Utilities are reluctant to "saturate" local grids with distributed solar. Now, residents have a bit more time to go solar without the utility telling them their local grid is full.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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