San Bernardino County Bans New Solar Power Plants Temporarily

A proposed 30-acre solar development on this site in Joshua Tree is now subject to a county-wide moratorium | Chris Clarke photo

Responding to what they called a rash of complaints about commercial solar developments in residential areas, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to put a hold on new projects until it can craft a county-wide policy.

The moratorium on new projects, which will last for at least 45 days, applies to unincorporated areas of the county. That's a fairly large area: San Bernardino County, at 20,105 square miles in extent, is larger than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey combined, and the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland could each fit neatly within the county's borders. The vast majority of the county's land is in unincorporated areas, including dozens of populated places like Joshua Tree, Hinkley, and Newberry Springs.

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And given that San Bernardino County is the focus of a large amount of attention from solar developers due to its desert sunshine, this moratorium may well prove to be more relevant in a national context than one might think.

The moratorium, which may be extended for up to a year, applies only to commercial projects that have not yet been approved. Smaller private projects such as residential rooftop solar can proceed as usual in the county.

In the meantime, the county will be drawing up guidelines for siting and permitting of new projects, applications for which have swelled dramatically in the last few months. County Supervisor James Ramos told the Riverside Press Enterprise that more than 30 such projects are now in the planning process, some as large as 50 acres, and many of them in close proximity to residential areas. Residents near existing projects of that size have complained of dust pollution, noise, and reduction in property values from new industrial neighbors.

"I'm asking that we don't allow outside interests to impact the quality of life, the property values and the tourist-based economy that all the local residents who lived there worked so hard for over a long period of time," local activist Frazier Haney, who applauded the moratorium vote, told the Press-Enterprise.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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