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San Bernardino County Extends Solar Moratorium

San Bernardino County Line
San Bernardino County draws a line | Photo: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr/Creative Commons License

San Bernardino County's Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to extend a moratorium on new solar developments in the county for an additional ten months until the county can get its overall solar development policy put together. The moratorium had originally been set to run for 45 days when the supervisors unanimously approved it in June.

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Wednesday's extension of the moratorium, which the Supervisors also approved unanimously, means the moratorium will run for a full year all told. Supervisors directed County staff to provide updates on the progress of county-wide policies for solar project permitting at least once a month.

The moratorium applies only to commercial-scale solar power facilities: small-scale rooftop, carport, and similar solar installations aren't affected, nor are large public lands projects already under construction. The moratorium also applies only to the county's unincorporated areas, as individual cities and towns set their own development and zoning policies.

Of course, as the largest county in the 48 contiguous states with 20,105 square miles of land, there's a lot of unincorporated area in San Bernardino County, so this moratorium affects more land area than would laws that covered all of some East Coast states.

And despite the county's sparse population outside of the San Bernardino Metro area, around 300,000 people live in the county's unincorporated areas, meaning that solar projects in those unincorporated areas may affect as many people as live in cities the size of Riverside or Oakland.

According to County Planning Director Terri Rahhal, the moratorium came in response to constituents concerns about the patchwork nature of solar project permitting across the county. "The current county regulations on solar energy projects have proven to be inadequate to address the land-use compatibility issues that have come up," Rahhal told the Riverside Press-Enterprise's Imran Ghori.

Among the concerns that have arisen due to solar developments are dust pollution, glare, and decreased property values due to conversion of intact desert to industrial use.

Nowhere in the county are those concerns more pointed than in the environs of Joshua Tree National Park: the communities in the Morongo Basin along the north edge of the park have a lot of solar projects either under construction or planned. The Morongo Basin is in the county's third supervisorial district represented by Supervisor James Ramos, who introduced the motion to extend the moratorium. "The solar industry is coming," Ramos told Ghori. "It is here. We just have to put the parameters out there so it can move forward."

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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