City of Palm Springs First City in the Coachella Valley to Join Community Choice Aggregate

Palm Springs is leading the way in the Coachella Valley when it comes to Community Choice Energy and becoming a more sustainable city.

On Wednesday, July 5, the City Council voted to become the first city in the desert to join a new Community Choice Aggregate, (CCA), operated by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, (CVAG).

The new CCA would enable local control of electricity choices and rates, provide more renewable energy options and allow cities and/or county governments to pool the electricity demand of multiple communities for the purpose of supplying power. A CCA creates an economy scale, buying and/or developing power on behalf of resident, business and government electricity users. Local electricity continues to be distributed and delivered over existing power lines owned by the jurisdiction’s investor-owned utility, in the case of the City of Palm Springs, Southern California Edison. The utility would continue to maintain transmission lines and provide customer service.

Over the next three months, the Coachella Valley’s five other municipalities served by Southern California Edison will begin considering whether or not to join the CCA and bring Community Choice Energy to their communities. Joining is optional and customers can opt out at any time.

“Palm Springs’ commitment to sustainability was once again demonstrated by our Council voting unanimously to become the first member of a new Community Choice Energy entity in the Coachella Valley,” said City Councilmember Geoff Kors, who represents the City on CVAG’s Energy & Environmental Resource Committee and sits on the Community Choice Energy Working Group.

“This effort will not only save many consumers money, but will provide every resident and business the ability to select what kind of energy they want to purchase – green, local, or remain with Edison,” said Kors. “In other parts of California that have taken this step, the increase in green power has been significant and I am hopeful Palm Springs will continue to lead in this important area.”

CVAG hopes to have the new CCA operational by spring of 2018. For more information, call (760) 346-1127.

Negotiations toward a Salton Sea Consensus Are Progressing, Water Agency Says

The Imperial Irrigation District has been using its clout as the agency with the biggest water entitlement along the Colorado River to press for California officials to live up to their commitment that they will keep the Salton Sea from turning into an environmental disaster.

During the past year, IID has warned the state that without a credible, well-funded “road map” to restore deteriorating shoreline habitats and cover up growing stretches of dust-spewing lakebed, the district won’t take part in a proposed deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River. And on top of that, the agency has warned, the nation’s biggest farmland-to-city water transfer deal could be in jeopardy if the state doesn’t urgently pursue fixes at the Salton Sea.

Now, however, negotiations appear to be progressing toward a consensus that would satisfy the district’s demands and win its support.

Kevin Kelley, the IID’s general manager, said the district has worked together with Imperial County and the San Diego County Water Authority to reach a consensus position on what they want to see, and they’ve presented a proposal to state officials as part of ongoing negotiations.

Kelley said the agencies want the State Water Resources Control Board to approve an order that would lock in a commitment to carry out and fund the state’s 10-year plan for the Salton Sea, which calls for building thousands of acres of ponds and wetlands around the shrinking lake. He said this type of order would bring “durability” and specific milestones to hold the state accountable long after Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office.

“It gives us a road map that we can have some confidence in, recognizing that this governor won’t be in office for the entire 10 years, there’ll be a change in the makeup of the Legislature, but this problem will continue,” Kelley said.

He said the agencies aren’t calling for additional projects or funding, but simply want to see the state be bound to follow through on the work schedule laid out in the $383 million plan – for which only $80.5 million has been approved so far.

“We’re not allowing the perfect to stand in the way of the good: A 10-year road map that enables everyone to go forward and perform at the Salton Sea is better than what we have today,” Kelley said.

What the agencies are asking for doesn’t represent everything they’ve wanted, he said, “but I think that it would give us some confidence that this 10-year plan is durable enough to go forward with.”

READ THE SERIES: California’s Dying Sea

The agencies sent their proposal to the state on June 27. They declined to release the document, saying it’s part of ongoing negotiations, and described their proposals in broad terms without revealing specifics.

Bruce Wilcox, the state’s assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, said he thinks it’s a good sign that the three agencies are cooperating on their proposal and that it shows a new level of consensus.

“This is the first time that everyone has been pretty much on board with a plan moving forward,” Wilcox said. “There’s always some minor details to be worked out, but I think that’s positive.”

Dust and vanishing birds

The California Natural Resources Agency released its plan for the Salton Sea in March. The blueprint calls for building a patchwork of ponds and wetlands along the lake’s retreating shorelines during the next 10 years to cover growing expanses of dusty lakebed and to create habitat for fish and birds.

If those ponds and wetlands are fully built, they would cover up 29,800 acres by 2028 – less than half of the more than 60,000 acres of dry lakebed that will be left exposed over the next 10 years.

People in communities around the lake already suffer from high asthma rates, and the problem is likely to get much worse in the coming years as growing expanses of dry lakebed send bigger clouds of fine dust into the air.

The Salton Sea was formed between 1905 and 1907, when floodwaters from the Colorado River burst through canals and filled the low-lying basin in the desert known as the Salton Sink, covering an ancient lakebed.

Since then, the lake has been sustained by water running off farmland in the Imperial Valley. But the lake has been shrinking for years as the amounts of water flowing into it have decreased, and growing strains on the Colorado River are pushing the lake toward a drier future.

READ MORE:  California has a new $383 million plan for the shrinking Salton Sea

The lake, which has no outlet and is already saltier than the ocean, has been getting progressively saltier and regularly gives off a stench resembling rotten eggs. The remaining fish appear to be disappearing and bird populations have been crashing.

The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly next year under a 2003 water transfer deal, which is sending increasing amounts of water away from the Imperial Valley to urban areas in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

The agreement called for the Imperial district to send “mitigation water” from its canals into the sea through 2017 – a period intended to give state agencies time to prepare for dealing with the effects. At the end of this year, that flow of water will be cut off and the lake’s shorelines will retreat more rapidly.

Over the next 30 years, the sea is projected to shrink by a third.

Ralph Cordova, Imperial County’s executive officer, said a central, longstanding demand is that people in the area shouldn’t have to bear a burden as a result of the water transfers. He said the county wants to make sure there is “enforceability” so that if state officials fail to follow through on their plan, there are ways of holding the state accountable.

“It’s a nice plan, but if they don’t do what they say they’re going to do in the plan, what then?” Cordova said.

In 2014, the Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County filed a petition before the State Water Board demanding state action at the Salton Sea after years of delays and unfulfilled plans.

Kelley has called the Salton Sea a “ticking time bomb” that could have far-reaching impacts.

In November, IID’s leaders demanded the state present a credible “road map” and said they would only be able to participate in a drought deal for the Colorado River once there is a viable Salton Sea plan. Under the proposed Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, water districts in California, Arizona and Nevada would temporarily take less water from the overallocated river to boost Lake Mead – which has fallen to record low levels – in an effort to avert severe water shortages.

IID’s participation is crucial for the proposed agreement, and if the district eventually says it’s satisfied with California’s efforts at the Salton Sea, that could clear the way for the larger deal on the Colorado River, which provides water for nearly 40 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland.

Kelley said state officials and IID representatives have agreed in their discussions on the Salton Sea that “such an order by the state board would be a prerequisite to IID’s participation in a Drought Contingency Plan,” which California officials want to see finalized.

In March, IID and Imperial County filed a motion with the State Water Board requesting a hearing on the Salton Sea and asking the board to order the completion of a final plan by Oct. 1. That hearing has been delayed as negotiations have progressed.
Kelley said the agencies want to see the state’s plan be fully funded and they also want assurance that the State Water Board will continue to have authority over the plan for the entire 10-year period.

“A 10-year plan absent a water order would not be sufficient, and the elements that have gone into this consensus position on the part of the three agencies represent not only progress but commitment,” Kelley said. “This represents real progress and a going-forward plan that we can believe in.”

The three agencies are waiting for a response from state officials.

“At the end of the day, what we really want to see – I think what everyone wants to see – is projects built on the ground,” Kelley said.

State officials have yet to decide on long-term fixes. They say they’re considering options that include piping in and desalinating water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and building a “perimeter lake” that would stretch more than 60 miles around much of the Salton Sea.

In the meantime, their first priority is to use the $80.5 million that’s available to start designing and building canals and ponds along portions of the shore.

The state’s plan also contemplates the development of more geothermal energy plants near the Salton Sea’s south shore, where one of the planet’s most powerful geothermal zones runs along the San Andreas Fault. There are now 11 geothermal power plants in the area, and the state’s plan requires that canals and ponds be built to ensure access to areas where new plants could be built.

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As IID and other agencies negotiate with state officials, environmental groups have told the state they don’t want to be left out of the process. In a June 16 letter to the State Water Board, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Audubon Society asked to participate in any talks on drafting a state order.

The groups were parties to a previous 2002 order under which the state board required IID to deliver “mitigation water” to the Salton Sea for 15 years.

Sarah Friedman, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, said the groups “want a process that’s open and transparent and has all parties in it.”

“Ultimately we’re just trying to put the state and the parties on notice that we are also parties and we also have interests,” Friedman said. “We really just need to see greater action and commitment to averting this massive ecological and human health disaster.”

Lawmakers pushing bills

The state’s efforts would get a boost under a package of bills that are advancing through the Legislature. The bills, SB 615 and SB 701, would enshrine the 10-year plan in state law and establish a $500 million bond measure, which would go before voters next year and would pay for projects at the Salton Sea.

The bills were authored by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, and Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and were approved last week by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, which Garcia chairs. The bills are slated to go before the Appropriations Committee and then to the full Assembly.

Garcia also incorporated $30 million for the Salton Sea in AB 18, a proposed bond measure for parks.

“We’ll be in a better place,” Garcia said, “if these get on the ballot and approved by the voters and we’re able to fund the entire 10-year plan.”

Hueso, who visited the Imperial Valley on June 30 with Garcia and other state officials, said it will be important to get the $500 bond measure on the ballot.

“It’s going to be very difficult to explain to Californians why it’s an urgent need, but we’re going to work very hard to do that,” Hueso said.

Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said he’s pleased to see the bills moving forward in the Legislature.

“It seems like there’s great momentum,” Perez said. “I think that we’ve been advancing the work over the last few years more so than over the course of the last 20 years.”

Perez, who previously served in the state Assembly, said one of the problems in the past was that at the local level, “we weren’t as united as we needed to be.”

That has changed in the past few years, and Perez said demonstrating a “united front” will help in pushing for solutions as the Salton Sea shrinks.

Negotiations toward a Salton Sea Consensus Are Progressing, Water Agency Says, by Ian James, The Desert Sun, July 10, 2017.

The Climate Change Debate Is Settled. Here’s What You Can Do.

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Alan Siebuhr

The debate is settled: climate change is happening. 2016 was the hottest year on record, adding on to some of the hottest on record within the last 15 years.

We already see the effects worldwide: destabilization within different regions, agricultural problems, species loss, changing weather events, devastating droughts, and rising sea levels. It has recently been discovered that, within the next 15 years, many residents in Marin, Calif., and other coastal communities will have their homes, local schools, and utilities at risk of damage due to impending sea level rise.

My generation, and the ones after us, will have to deal with these problems.

I grew up in the Coachella Valley. I went to high school in La Quinta, where I continued on to College of the Desert. I transferred and recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Economics and Policy.

With growing environmental threats, I felt it was important to understand the problem to develop policy solutions.

Climate change is caused by carbon pollution. Most people don’t understand how we measure the costs of carbon pollution. During my studies, I often came across the metric called the “Social Cost of Carbon” (SCC). The SCC is a dollar value of long-term damage done by one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) in a given year. It includes economic, ecological, health, and physical impacts in a monetized form. If we multiply the standard SCC (roughly $69) by the amount of CO2 humans put in the air annually (40 billion tons), it comes out to roughly $2.7 trillion in costs, which include but are not limited to:

Roughly $14 billion from deaths and illnesses related to pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, mosquitoes, and flooding

$882 billion from rising sea levels near coastal cities, affecting many homes and businesses across the country

$1 billion in heat-related losses in 2011 alone in meat animal production

My generation will have to bear this burden.

While the future seems bleak, I also know it doesn’t have to be this way. Several cities have already taken action: Georgetown, Texas, is on par to be 100 percent renewable in 2018, while Las Vegas has gone 100% renewable in all government-owned buildings, saving the city $50 million annually.

In California, there are several counties where communities have chosen to receive their electricity from renewable energy resources (referred to as Community Choice Energy/Aggregation, or CCA/CCE). Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy allow consumers to choose where their electricity source, with the option to “opt-out” if they choose not to be included. The Coachella Valley Association of Governments is exploring CCA for our regions. Several cities in California are also on track to 100 percent renewable energy, such as Santa Barbara, Richmond, and Oakland, with Santa Monica already at 100 percent renewables.

On the local level, the Palm Springs City Council will soon be voting on an ordinance to require solar panels on new residential construction and any major remodels in the city.

This will stop the addition of new carbon emissions and inspire other CV cities to take action to limit carbon pollution.

The costs of carbon pollution are very real and will only increase over time. Now is the time for our local governments to take action against climate change, so that we can leave a better future for my generation and generations after.

The Climate Change Debate Is Settled. Here’s What You Can Do., by Alan Siebuhr, The Desert Sun, June 14, 2017.

Fifth Massive Solar Farm in Riverside County — This One near Joshua Tree — to Sell Power to SoCal Edison

Riverside County could soon be getting its fifth massive solar farm.

The 500-megawatt Palen solar project would be built near Desert Center, between Interstate 10 and Joshua Tree National Park. It would join the nearby Desert Sunlight facility — which at 550 megawatts was the world’s largest solar farm when it opened — and three projects near the Arizona border, known as Blythe, McCoy and Genesis.

Palen’s developer, San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, has signed a contract to sell the electricity the plant would generate to the region’s major utility, Southern California Edison — a key step before construction can begin. The California Public Utilities Commission is likely to approve that contract later this month. The developer must also wait for Riverside County and the federal Bureau of Land Management to conduct an environmental review, which the agencies expect to finish later this year.

Like many solar plants in the desert, Palen has faced pushback from conservationists and tribal groups, who say the industrial facility would harm fragile ecosystems, destroy Native American artifacts and negatively impact Joshua Tree National Park, which is just eight miles from the project site. Critics have argued Palen would disrupt sand transport habitat critical to Mojave fringe-toed lizards and a corridor used by Agassiz’s desert tortoise, which is considered “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Palen would be located within a 148,000-acre renewable energy zone designated by the Obama administration last year. But David Lamfrom, from the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said it was never the government’s intention for every acre to get developed. Ecosystem impacts still need to be taken into account, he said.

“You have some really unique habitat in that Palen system, including the sand dune system, and connectivity and proximity to wilderness and the national park,” he said. “There’s likely less harmful locations even within that (renewable energy) zone that are currently available, and where they would run into less conflicts.”

Several factors make Palen attractive to a utility like Edison, said Ian Black, the EDF executive responsible for the firm’s California solar portfolio. For one thing, the desert’s strong sunlight means EDF can sell the electricity at a relatively low price and still turn a profit. Palen will also be built along the I-10 corridor, where there are transmission lines ready to carry the clean power to the Los Angeles basin.

Edison has agreed to buy 125 megawatts of power from Palen, with an expected output of 406 gigawatt-hours — enough electricity to power 60,000 average California homes. EDF hopes to build out to 500 megawatts eventually, but it could start construction with just the single contract in place. The full project would span 4,200 acres of federal lands.

EDF also secured a power purchase contract last year for its 150-megawatt Desert Harvest project, which was approved in 2013 and would be built near Palen. Black wouldn’t say when construction on that project will begin, but indicated Desert Harvest and Palen could be built at the same time, depending on when Palen gets its permits.

“Obviously we would want to make a plan to construct both on a timely basis, to maximize the number of local jobs and minimize the adverse impacts,” he said.

Palen has been on the books since 2009, when the German firm Solar Millennium asked state officials for permission to build two 750-foot solar towers. The proposal has gone through several owners, technologies and configurations since then. It’s been delayed by corporate bankruptcies, regulatory rejections and protests from conservationists.

EDF acquired the project from the Spanish firm Abengoa Solar last year, and quickly announced its intention to switch from the mirror-based solar technology favored by previous developers to traditional solar photovoltaic panels.

As part of their environmental review process, the Bureau of Land Management and Riverside County are considering several alternatives to EDF’s proposal, including a smaller project that would span just 1,620 acres and avoid desert washes, riparian habitat and sand accumulations suitable for Mojave fringe-toed lizards. That configuration would also cut the project’s power potential in half, to just 230 megawatts.

Avoiding those habitat types would follow the rules laid out in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, an Obama administration road map for protecting California desert ecosystems while encouraging climate-friendly energy development. The sweeping land-use plan set aside 6.5 million acres for conservation and 3.6 million acres for recreation, while designating 388,000 acres for solar, wind and geothermal projects.

Conservationists have generally said the plan strikes a good balance between desert protection and energy development, but solar and wind companies have argued it closes far too much land to energy projects. Industry critics have also described certain building requirements designed to protect birds and other animals as expensive and unnecessary, saying they’ll raise the cost of construction and scare away developers.

Palen was proposed before the Obama-era plan was finalized in 2016, meaning it isn’t subject to those building requirements. Still, officials say the’re considering the scaled-down alternative to see what it would take for Palen to comply with those rules.

Only one new solar farm has been proposed in the California desert since the Obama plan was finalized — a 200-megawatt project near Desert Center proposed by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, which is based in Spain. No new wind farms have been proposed, seeming to validate the industry’s criticism that the plan closes most of the state’s best remaining wind hot spots to development. Officials marked many of those areas as off limits to prevent bird deaths and to avoid conflicts with military testing and training.

There are several other solar proposals in various stages of development in Riverside County, all of which predate the Obama administration plan. SunPower has proposed a 400-megawatt solar farm called Arica, which would be built on 4,000 acres of public land near Desert Center. Recurrent Energy is developing the 350-megawatt Crimson project, which could include energy storage, on 2,900 acres of public land near Blythe. And federal officials are working an environmental analysis of First Solar’s proposed 4,800-acre, 300-megawatt Desert Quartzite solar plant on public land near the Arizona border.

Nationally, the solar and wind industries continue to grow rapidly, driven by low prices and — in some states, like California — mandates to transition from planet-warming fossil fuels to climate-friendly energy sources. The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that solar and wind accounted for 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation for the first time in March, with wind making up four-fifths of that total.

Fifth Massive Solar Farm in Riverside County — This One near Joshua Tree — to Sell Power to SoCal Edison, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, June 14, 2017.

PUC Okays 125-MW Solar PPA for Southern California Edison

Public utility Southern California Edison Company (NYSEMKT:SCE-E) has received the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC)’s approval for a 125-MW solar power purchase agreement (PPA).

The watchdog says it is giving the green light to the contract without modification, noting that it is in line with the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) procurement guidelines.

The PPA has been struck with Maverick Solar LLC for a term of 15 years. The solar power plant in Riverside County is expected to start commercial operation on December 1, 2020. Its annual output is estimated at some 406 GWh per year.

The power contract has been struck following SCE’s 2015 RPS solicitation.

The US had 26.4 GW of large-scale solar power capacity at the end of April, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). California remains the top state by installed photovoltaic (PV) power capacity.

PUC Okays 125-MW Solar PPA for Southern California EdisonRenewables Now, June 14, 2017.

 

Valley Voice: Changing market is molding ‘green’ power

Dian Grueneich

Dian Grueneich (Photo: Courtesy)

The May 8 article “Solar and wind are booming – just not in the California desert” suggests that limited availability of developable land is slowing growth of renewable energy in California. This is not the case. Work by the Nature Conservancy and others shows that California’s renewable energy goals can be met in an economically viable manner without developing environmentally sensitive lands.

While availability of land is one variable important to renewable power growth, demand for projects is another, more critical factor. A key driver of demand is the existence of buyers to sign contracts for new renewable electricity.

Historically, California’s primary buyers of renewable energy have been its large utilities. Today, the utilities have little incentive to sign additional contracts, because they have already signed agreements for quantities that are likely to meet California’s 2020 renewable targets under historical growth projections. However, the utilities are experiencing declining loads, driven by gains in energy efficiency and increasing rooftop solar. And, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is a rapidly growing option, available to local governments within the service areas of Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs).

BIGGER PICTURE: Solar, wind power development slows in desert

Communities are demanding more renewable energy, beyond even that required by California’s current target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. For example, Lancaster Choice allows its customers to choose up to 100 percent renewable energy. As the CCA customer base grows and the IOU customer base decreases, IOU signed renewable contracts may exceed not just current but future renewable requirements. Given this reality, the IOUs are not inclined to sign long-term contracts for new, large-scale renewable resources.

CCAs are still developing financial resources to be able to sign 20-year renewable contracts. Moreover, they are also balancing investing in local renewable resources that can provide jobs in their community with more remote projects, such as those in the desert.

In the longer-term, there is strong confidence that the CCAs have the will to support continued renewable electricity supply, beyond the current minimum state target. Work products such as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) will help them do that, in the most environmentally responsible manner. In fact, there are 10 solar projects currently moving forward within the framework of the DRECP, representing more than 2,900 MW of supply.

Planning agencies have long known that smart land use, planning, and siting practices can support and enable development by reducing the frequency and magnitude of unpleasant surprises, for all parties involved. The DRECP is one such smart land use planning initiative.

As a commissioner at the California PUC, I helped develop the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI), a statewide effort to help identify transmission projects to accommodate California’s renewable goals and facilitate transmission and generation siting and permitting. RETI piloted some of the tools and problem-solving approaches that the DRECP has expanded upon.

Another leading-edge planning initiative is the San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Land Study, which identifies least-conflict lands for solar photovoltaic development from multiple stakeholder perspectives.

We must use the latest and best resources and tools in our tool kits, including multi-year, multi-stakeholder collaborative work products like the DRECP, to demonstrate to the rest of the world a replicable path to continued growth, without sacrificing conservation priorities.

Dian Grueneich is a senior research scholar, Stanford University, and a former commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission (2005-2010). Email her at dgruenei@stanford.edu.

Valley Voice: Changing market is molding ‘green’ power, by Dian Grueneich, The Desert Sun, May 29, 2017.

Why Does City of Industry Want Thousands of Acres of Ranchland in Chino Hills and Diamond Bar? Here’s Their Plan.

Despite claiming that no such plans existed, the City of Industry has been working quietly and out of public view on a multimillion-dollar
proposal to build a massive solar farm amid more than 2,000 acres of undeveloped rolling hills along the shared borders of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Over the past year, the politically tight-knit manufacturing city of about 200 residents spent more than $1 million on leases, reimbursements and studies aimed at building an estimated 440-megawatt solar power facility, according to documents obtained by the Southern California News Group.

The previously unreported scope of the potential project — along with the planning activity and taxpayer spending that has taken place — caught off guard the elected officials, nearby homeowners and conservationists who have long monitored proposals for the open space.

As outlined in city documents, the solar farm would be among the biggest in Southern California, an unusually large-scale green energy project in the heart of a developed urban region. The facility could generate enough power to serve nearly a dozen UCLA campuses, or 10 percent of the power consumed by Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, experts said.

The news of the city’s plans have intensified criticism of the manner in which Industry has controlled information about possible future uses of such a large and unique piece of publicly owned land.

“If I was attempting to do what they are doing, I’d be run out on a rail,” said Konradt Bartlam, city manager of Chino Hills, which has jurisdiction over a portion of the potential project’s site.

Industry officials said the contract met legal requirements. The city has not yet developed detailed plans to share with the public.

Industry council members are committed to “protecting one of the largest swaths of open space remaining in our region for open and recreation space, as well as pursuing unobtrusive renewable and green energy opportunities,” City Manager Paul Philips said in a statement Thursday. He said the city is engaged in due diligence and research “to learn what is possible.”

The solar farm proposal is the latest turn in a long battle over control and development of the tract of unspoiled ranchland, canyons and pastures that form a major respite from the surrounding suburban and industrial sprawl of the San Gabriel and Chino valleys and northern Orange County.

It also represents a benchmark in an ongoing political struggle over the future of historic and coveted pieces of land: the 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos ranch, currently controlled by an independent state panel, and a neighboring 3,800 acres of parcels owned by the City of Industry. Both properties lie miles outside Industry’s city limits and partially within the boundaries of Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and unincorporated Orange County near Brea, along the 57 and 60 freeways.

Tres Hermanos, a cattle ranch and one-time private hunting grounds owned for generations by wealthy Los Angeles scions, including the late Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler, was purchased by Industry’s redevelopment agency in 1978 — before the state shut down such entities and put the land up for sale. Industry leaders have been trying to buy back the ranch so it can be added to the city’s adjacent Tonner Canyon holdings for use in the green energy project, records show.

A state-created panel tasked with selling off Tres Hermanos has delayed a decision on Industry’s $100 million offer because city officials haven’t disclosed their plans for the property. Panel members have indicated that they could consider other offers.

Philips, Industry’s city manager, said officials hope the state panel will approve their purchase rather than an alternative bid by a housing development investment group that wants to build 1,881 new tract homes.

“We do not believe the region is best served with a multimillion-dollar housing development that will only further clog our roads and slow down our goods movement,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Industry could not provide details on Philips’ suggestion that the project would include “open and recreation” space. Over the years, Tres Hermanos has served at times as a retreat for Industry’s city leaders and their allies.

PLANS FOR TRES HERMANOS

Among the newly obtained city documents is a master ground lease signed in May 2016 with San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC, an entity created for the solar project. Industry officials and a company spokesperson have refused to disclose investors in the limited liability corporation.

The ground lease includes the Tonner Canyon land already owned by Industry and states that if the city succeeds in acquiring Tres Hermanos, “then such property shall be added to, and become part of” the property for the project. The lease extends up to 65 years and gives the water and power firm “the right of first refusal” to buy the land if Industry opts to sell.

A separate professional services agreement with the design firm Kimley-Horn, executed last October, clarifies Industry’s intention to put the solar farm on Tres Hermanos ranchland.

“The Client is looking into the feasibility of constructing solar Photovoltaic Generation Facilities on 2,300 acres of undeveloped land, generally located in the hills of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar,” the agreement states. It includes a map outlining the Tres Hermanos borders.

Records related to the land show payments of more than $1 million on studies and consultants, including to a London-based law firm whose partners billed $1,200 an hour for 40-hour work weeks.

Michael Gregoryk, vice chair of the state oversight panel charged with disposing of Tres Hermanos, said in an interview that he was unaware of Industry’s solar farm plans.

“I guess they can do it, but they have to be the successful bidder,” he said. “Our role as an oversight board is to find the highest and best use.

“At least we got some information,” he said. “It’s kind of too bad that the city wouldn’t share it with us. There is an unwillingness from them to share anything with the oversight board.”

Multiple experts in solar power, shown maps and aerial video of Tres Hermanos, said the ranch is the most viable space in the hills for the solar panels because it is sun-drenched, flat and less ecologically sensitive after decades of cattle grazing. The rest of the city’s property in Tonner Canyon includes steeper terrain that may cast too much shade, they said.

One megawatt of solar power requires about 100,000 square feet of space for solar panels, said Rajit Gadh, a professor of UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The entire 440-megawatt solar farm would require about 1,100 acres of land, or an area about 2 miles by 1 mile, he said. “That is assuming everything is a tidy fit,” Gadh said.

REGIONAL POWER SUPPLY

The estimated output of the proposed solar farm would equal a large chunk of the 2,000 megawatts to 3,000 megawatts of electricity that county officials expect to seek for a new, government-backed power supply network, dubbed Los Angeles Community Choice Energy.

The ambitious program, expected to start in 2018, will offer electricity to cities through an interagency Joint Powers Authority being organized by L.A. County. Projections are that the program, partly intended to encourage development of more green energy, would serve more than 1 million residents and 200,000 businesses.

The Industry project in Tonner Canyon could be a potential supplier, officials said.

“That’s a quarter of our total need,” said Gary Gero, Los Angeles County’s chief sustainability officer. “That’s as big as they come.”

Gero’s office shaped the guidelines for the new energy program. A board of directors, representing member cities, is expected to be formed later this year and decide where to buy power.

Representatives of the Cordoba Corporation, a contractor running Industry’s public utility and working on the Tres Hermanos project, met with Gero in March to learn more about the program, Gero said. But Cordoba officials didn’t raise the possibility of selling electricity to Community Choice, he said.

Industry began expanding its public utility last year, as activity on the solar project picked up, records show.

Under the terms of the ground lease, Industry would be paid up to $4 million a year by San Gabriel Valley Water and Power. An update to the lease last June would allow Industry to purchase all of the energy produced.

Even if Industry does not sell to Community Choice, the solar farm could benefit the region.

If the industrial city went 100 percent green with power from the solar farm, it would help the environment and reduce electricity costs, Gero said.

“You would be saving an awful lot and you would be reducing a lot of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

HYDROELECTRIC ALTERNATIVE

City documents show that, if the solar project doesn’t proceed, Industry officials would consider allowing San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to construct an 89-billion-gallon reservoir and hydroelectric dam. The project would generate between 50 and 75 megawatts and take up more than 2,000 acres of land.

The possibility of a power-generating reservoir in Tonner Canyon has cropped up repeatedly for decades, ever since Industry first bought Tres Hermanos. Neighboring cities, particularly Brea, have opposed that idea, noting the property is near an earthquake fault.

Brea leaders have warned that flooding from a dam failure could threaten Orange County residents.

“We want to have a seat at the table as to what is going on,” said Bill Gallardo, Brea’s city manager. “We are absolutely opposed to anything that puts our residents in harm’s way.”

OFFICIALS IN THE DARK

City leaders in Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and Brea have largely pieced together what they know about the future of Tres Hermanos from news reports, public records requests and Industry’s public meetings.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, whose district includes Brea, said Industry hasn’t yet shared their plans with county officials. But he said he is generally likes the idea of Industry offsetting its carbon footprint.

In Los Angeles County, representatives of area Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office have toured the land. In a statement, Hahn said she hopes the open space will be protected “to the greatest extent possible for the preservation of wildlife sanctuary and the enjoyment of all.”

In Chino Hills, City Manager Bartlam and his staff said they resorted to filing dozens of public records requests with Industry city hall because officials there refused to discuss their plans for the hills. Industry would have to submit plans to Diamond Bar and Chino Hills for any public infrastructure project in Tres Hermanos because current zoning doesn’t permit utility projects.

Bartlam said he was surprised to learn from Industry documents that the city has begun work on a draft environmental impact study for the solar project. He said Chino Hills would likely reject such an assessment outright because, like most cities, it oversees environmental review contractors, rather than allowing a project applicant to hire such analysts.

“They have tried to paint this picture of their intent, but by the records they’ve produced, it is anything but open space,” Bartlam said. “From a public policy standpoint, what they are doing is wrong.”

Industry hasn’t held public hearings on the San Gabriel Valley Water and Power ground lease, which was signed last May, and includes one of the first references to a solar farm, records show.

City records aren’t clear on when or how city council members agreed to enter into the lease.

When Southern California News Group asked for clarification, City Attorney Jamie Casso pointed to a Feb. 11, 2016 agenda for the City Council. However, the agenda lists only a closed-session discussion about “significant exposure to litigation” related to “two potential cases.”

It doesn’t mention the nature of the potential litigation, or the parties involved.

Casso declined to elaborate on the legal threat but said he and the city manager were given direction to resolve the matter. He said that complied with the requirements of the state’s open government laws.

Kelly Aviles, an attorney who has challenged governmental agencies for their handling of similar closed-door decisions, said a city generally has to be more specific in identifying the nature of the legal threat and the parties involved.

Aviles added that leases of government property normally involve a separate and specific approval by elected officials even if it is related to litigation.

But both Aviles and Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware — a nonprofit group dedicated to government transparency — also said that the statute of limitations would have expired for criminal charges or civil remedies, as more than a year has passed.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct amount of space needed to produce 1 megawatt of solar power.

Why Does City of Industry Want Thousands of Acres of Ranchland in Chino Hills and Diamond Bar? Here’s Their Plan., by Jason Henry and Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, May 26, 2017.

 

New Solar Site In Temecula Will Help Power City Facilities For Less Money

TEMECULA, CA – On April 25 representatives from the City of Temecula and other project partners participated in the ground breaking ceremony for the solar power generating facility that is being constructed by SMER Research 1, LLC, under a ground lease with San Diego State University, the owner of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve. Electricity will be generated by the collection of sunlight onto an array of ground mounted photovoltaic cells on land known as the “Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve SOLAR Initiative Research Site.”

In late 2016, the City of Temecula approved a Solar Power Purchase Agreement with SMER Research 1, LLC, which will enable the City to purchase electrical power for various City facilities from the solar power generating facility. The cost of the electricity from this solar power generating facility to the City will initially be approximately 10% less than the cost of electricity available to the City from Southern California Edison Company. As electricity rates increase over time the savings to the City will increase correspondingly.Sufficient electricity will be generated to serve several of the City of Temecula’s facilities.

The photovoltaic cells are similar to those now being used in home solar energy systems. The project is being constructed in coordination with Southern California Edison Company in accordance with programs established by the California Public Utilities Commission. In addition to the public benefits of lower electricity rates and obtaining electricity from a renewable source of power, SMER Research 1 and San Diego State University have agreed to conduct substantial academic research projects at the solar power generating facility site that will study solar radiation, solar energy, soils, and other meteorological and geotechnical data as well as habitat and habitat restoration.

Former California Lt. Governor, Cruz Bustamante, current CEO of Go Green Consultants, the firm responsible for bringing the project team together, remarked “This project is a win win-win-win, in that it is a win for the City of Temecula who will realize savings through lower energy costs, a win for the environment by creatively using renewable energy, a win for the SMER as the project will clear a grove of eucalyptus trees which are a non-native invasive species, and a win for San Diego State University as the project also funds a 20-year research project studying the impacts of the solar array on the native habitat.”

City of Temecula Mayor Pro-Tem Matt Rahn commented that in addition to the environmental and habitat research benefits, the project also eliminates a significant wild land fire fuel source. He shared that the research will address important issues including initial attack effectiveness for wildfires, watershed management, and how renewable energy can be produced in a compatible way with ecosystems and habitat.

Project Team consists of:

  • Power Purchaser: City of Temecula
  • Property Owner: San Diego State University
  • Developer: BioStar Renewables, LLC
  • Co-Developer: Go Green Consultants, LLC/Photogenesis Energy, LLC
  • EPC: BioStar Solar, LLC/E Light Electric Inc.
  • Financing Provided By: BioStar Renewables, LLC.
  • Construction Manager: Spectrum Energy Development Inc.
  • Project Consultant: Aaron Reed & Associates LLC

PHOTO: (Pictured from left to right) Andy Stancati, David Burt, Joel Huppe, Tag Taylor, Pat Agnello, Lee Ullman, Paul Galindo, Cruz Bustamante, [not listed], Matt Rahn, Greg Butler, [not listed] CREDIT: City of Temecula

– SUBMITTED FOR PUBLICATION BY: City of Temecula

New Solar Site In Temecula Will Help Power City Facilities For Less Money, by Renee Schiavone, Patch, May 2, 2017.

Animal Predatory Behavior Decreases Near Desert Wind Turbines, Study Finds

PALM SPRINGS, CA – A study conducted at the windmills near Palm Springs showed that predators are less likely to attack prey living near the wind turbines, including desert tortoises that burrow in the Coachella Valley.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey employed motion-activated cameras facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows at the 5.2-square-kilometer wind energy facility.

They found that predators are far more likely to visit the tortoises’ burrows near dirt roads and far less likely to visit burrows close to turbines.

The five predator species monitored included bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, black bears and western spotted skunks, who scientists say were not actively hunting the tortoises but seeking smaller prey that frequently live in desert tortoise burrows.

“These findings could be helpful in assisting managers to design future wind energy facilities with species in mind,” said lead author Mickey Agha. “There may be benefits to adding space between turbines and increasing the number of dirt roads, to potentially provide habitat for sensitive terrestrial wildlife.”

Scientists behind the study — which was published in the April issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management — say the findings show that the design of wind energy infrastructure impacts animal behavior, an area of study rarely touched on.

“There is little information on predator-prey interactions in wind energy landscapes in North America, and this study provides a foundation for learning more,” said Jeffrey Lovich, USGS scientist and study co-author.

“Further investigation of causes that underlie road and wind turbine effects, such as ground vibrations, sound emission and traffic volume, could help provide a better understanding of wildlife responses to wind energy development,” he said.

-By City News Service

Animal Predatory Behavior Decreases Near Desert Wind Turbines, Study Finds, by Patch Staff, Patch, May 5, 2017.

Hundreds Gather in Fontana to Express Concern about Proposed SCE Rate Increases

Hundreds of people gathered on the afternoon of May 9 at the Jessie Turner Center in Fontana to express their concern about proposed Southern California Edison rate increases.

Most attendees were members of the Laborer’s International Union of North America (LiUNA), which claimed that if SCE’s proposal is approved, rates would be 53 percent higher than they were in 2009.

“We represent thousands of middle class workers in Southern California trying to make ends meet while Edison consistently increases rates far beyond inflation,” said Armando Esparza, business manager for the Southern California District Council of Laborers. “It’s time for Edison to propose reasonable rates for working Californians who are already financially impacted by high living costs.”

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, which held the meeting, SCE is requesting a rate and revenue increase of $221 million in 2018, followed by an additional increase of $533 million in 2019 and an additional $570 million in 2020. This revenue increase request is referred to as a general rate case and covers costs to operate the company, said Eric Wildgrube, the administrative law judge assigned to the case.

If approved by the CPUC, the request would increase the company’s revenue by 5.5 percent next year to $5.9 billion.

According to SCE, residential customers who use an average of 600 kilowatt-hours per month would expect to pay an extra $3.75 a month in 2018, $5.65 per month in 2019 and $7.29 per month in 2020.

If approved, the rates and revenue increase would be used to invest in electric grid safety; to reinforce grid reliability, and grid resiliency in case of emergency; to improve customer service and communication and to offer customers more choices to meet their needs, Wildgrube added. In addition, the revenues would modernize the electric grid to integrate distributed energy resources without compromising safety and reliability.

“We are here to hear arguments both in favor and against. A decision will not be made today and this is only to gather input on the proposed rates,” he added.

Wildgrube urged concerned customers to send written comments via email to public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov using reference number A.16-09-001 or via postal at Public Advisor’s Office, California Public Utilities Commission, 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Longtime Fontana resident Ruthie Estes voiced her concern over the proposed rate increase, arguing it would hurt senior citizens who are living on a fixed income.

“SCE is passing the costs to the public, but what happens after three years? More hikes?” said Estes. “That’s unfair to us.”

LiUNA also claimed that a separate SCE policy is hurting the union members.

“Edison refuses to let our contractors and workers participate in their infrastructure projects that our members pay for in their electric rates. Not only is Edison inflicting a financial burden on our members with high rates, they also discriminate against our union for work that we do for all other public utilities in California,” said Esparza.

SCE representatives present at the hearing did not comment in regard to the discrimination accusations.

For more information, visit www.cpuc.ca.gov/PPH.

Hundreds Gather in Fontana to Express Concern about Proposed SCE Rate Increases, by Alejandro Cano, Fontana Herald News, May 10, 2017.