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Antelope Valley Solar Ranch Vandalized

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A First Solar PV array at a similar project in San Luis Obispo County | Photo: Russ Ferriday/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's no surprise for anyone who's followed the history of the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR) in northern Los Angeles County that quite a few locals are fed up with the project. Local tensions don't seem to be ebbing, to put it mildly: Greentech Media's Herman K. Trabish is reporting today that an unidentified person has done $100,000 worth of vandalism to the 230-megawatt solar PV project First Solar is building for utility company Exelon along Route 138 northwest of Lancaster.

The vandalism, reported yesterday at a community meeting by AVSR project manager Tony Perrino, apparently took place on the weekend of July 9. A transmission line and water pipe were cut by reciprocating saw at a spot about 2.5 miles away from the project site. The pipeline, which was leaking water, was repaired immediately. The electrical conduit has not yet been fixed, but First Solar estimates the cost of replacement of the section at about $100,000.

This isn't the first incident at AVSR. The site has had 24/7 security since a break-in during the New Year's holiday, which is likely the reason this month's vandal struck well away from the site. Community opposition to the site, centering around visual issues, dust control, public input, and public safety, has bedeviled AVSR since the project began. Though residents would likely say the bedeviling cuts both ways, especially after a consulting biologist on the site caused a 70-acre fire in July 2011.

This summer, First Solar had to lay off hundreds of workers after Los Angeles County discovered none of the 3.8 million cadmium telluride PV panels First Solar intended to use on site were certified as safe by Underwriters' Laboratories, a state law requirement that somehow had not been enforced on previous First Solar projects elsewhere in California. The County halted construction until June.

If Trabish's report is any indication, the vandalism hasn't lessened tension in the neighborhood. Neighborhood anger was mentioned at the community meeting yesterday as the likely reason for the vandalism. Conflicts between First Solar and three local neighborhood councils continue to fester, and the company's labor contractor was hit with a class action lawsuit last week alleging unfair labor practices, including failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.

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