Solar Project at Joshua Tree Airport Put on Hold

JOSHUA TREE — The NextEra corporation is stopping, at least for now, construction of the solar farm planned in the old Roy Williams airport, a company official confirmed this week.

“We are not proceeding with immediate construction of the project,” Steven Stengel, a representative of NextEra, said.

Joshua Basin Water District General Manager Curt Sauer first announced the company’s turnaround at a board meeting on Wednesday.

Sauer said the project manager mentioned the hold on the project about three weeks ago.

“They decided that they will not pursue this project anymore at this time,” Sauer said in a phone interview. “They may decide to pursue it later, though,” he added.

The project, a utility-scale solar farm 2.3 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, has been under fire from some Joshua Tree residents for more than a year.

After the San Bernardino County Planning Commission approved a permit application from NextEra, a group of residents appealed the decision to the county board of supervisors.

The supervisors upheld the permit on Aug. 16, 2016.

Afterward, a group of locals and environmental groups sued the county and the corporation, saying standards for environmental protections had not been followed. David Fick, a Joshua Tree resident involved in the lawsuit, said litigation is ongoing with NextEra and its subsidiary, Joshua Tree Solar Farm LLC.

A lawsuit was also filed against the county by the SoCal Environmental Justice Alliance over the project, Fick said in August.

County court records show the group petitioned for a judicial order against Joshua Tree Solar Farm and San Bernardino County in May. They alleged the county and the company failed to prepare an environmental impact report or analyze all potentially significant effects of the project.

NextEra also wrangled with Joshua Basin Water District over water service. The water board at first voted against providing water for the project. Sauer made an agreement with the company, requiring it pay for a delivery of State Water Project water to replace the local water the project will use.

Sauer said the water that the company purchased from the state is still expected to replenish the aquifer in the spring.

The company bought 84 acre-feet from the state, which would last 40 years.

A construction crew hasn’t been on the property for some time. “There hasn’t been activity on-site since the middle of November,” Fick said.

Solar Project at Joshua Tree Airport Put on Hold, Leah Sanson, Hi-Desert Star, March 17, 2017.

Lovingood Offers New Plan for Economic Growth including Hotel Bed Tax Initiative

First District Supervisor and San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Lovingood began a push for public support for, “A proven plan for economic growth.

San Bernardino County First District Supervisor and Board Chairman Robert Lovingood has a plan for “proven economic growth” in his county. Supervisor Lovingood’s plan includes Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), and he sees it as a way to create jobs. Neighboring Riverside County is evaluating its own CCA and Apple Valley is set to launch soon – the Inland Empire is heating up.

“In regards to the issue of Economic Development, the plan calls for an initiative to assist residents and manufacturers by lowering electric rates through a Community Choice Aggregation project or CCA. Under a CCA, the County would develop one or more solar projects and negotiate wholesale electric power agreements to provide discounted electricity to customers. CCAs currently operate in 1,300 communities in seven states. In California, the City of Lancaster and the counties of Marin and Sonoma have done a good job. CCAs provide competition that helps lower electrical rates. This will help both residential customers and prospective employers.”

Lovingood Offers New Plan for Economic Growth including Hotel Bed Tax Initiative, by S. E. Williams, The Alpenhorn News, February 18, 2017.

UC Riverside Is Building a Greenhouse That Will Produce Food and Solar Power

UC Riverside is building a greenhouse with a translucent roof that generates solar power while allowing sunlight to pass through to plants below.

The greenhouse will serve as a laboratory to probe the solar energy production, plant growth and costs of growing food in such systems, said Jeff Kaplan, a UCR associate vice chancellor.

“We see this as a strategy to use land for solar energy while simultaneously using it for agriculture,” said Kaplan, who oversees UCR’s sustainability programs.

The technology, developed at UC Santa Cruz, could potentially help usher in an era when greenhouses can produce food with no need for outside electricity to power fans or lights.

The solar panels at UCR will charge a battery in the 800-square foot greenhouse. The goal is for the system to make and store all the electricity the building needs without a connection to the campus electricity network. The construction budget is $174,000 with about $15,000 of that going for the panels, added Scott Donnell, a UCR project manager.

The university expects the greenhouse to be constructed in about two months, Donnell said. The researchers have yet to be named.

By controlling climate, water use and plant nutrition, greenhouses can produce food using a fraction of the land and water when compared with traditional field agriculture, said Glenn Alers, president of Soliculture, the startup company from Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County that provides the translucent panels.

The problem is that greenhouses are costly to build and consume electricity for lighting, climate control, and ventilation systems. But these solar panels offset energy costs while also taking advantage of the greenhouse structure to hold up panels, Alers said by telephone.

The panels also have a cooling effect, which will help in hot areas and also extend the growing period for certain crops.

“We are improving the economics of greenhouses,” Alers said.

The panels work a dual function by parsing sunlight.

A portion of the light spectrum is used to make electricity, while the red light portion of the spectrum that plants need to grow is magnified as it passes through the panels. This gives the panels a distinctive dark pink hue.

Alers was the part of a research group at UC Santa Cruz that in 2011 developed the technology in the Thin-Film Optoelectronics Laboratory of physics professor Sue Carter.

The researchers were experimenting with a fluorescent dye that absorbs light to make solar panels more efficient, according to UC press statement. But these experimental panels didn’t use the red light that plants need, and let it pass through.

UCR won’t be the first to use these panels. They have been installed at the University of California’s Davis and Santa Cruz campuses. Commercial growers in Watsonville, Nipomono and near Edmonton, Canada, also have installed the panels.

The ability to grow plants under solar panels may have larger implications for the environment.

In 2015, a study by UC Riverside biologists found that most of California’s large-scale solar projects have caused new environmental problems by consuming land important for wildlife habitat, agriculture and recreation.

Translucent panels could perhaps someday allow for farm fields to grow crops and produce electricity.

But that will take time.

“We are now focusing on greenhouses,” Alers said.

UC Riverside Is Building a Greenhouse That Will Produce Food and Solar Power, by David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise, March 11, 2017.

Our View: The Choice seems clear in Apple Valley

The Town of Apple Valley held public information meetings last week about its new Choice Energy program, attracting large crowds of interested residents.

Though a few seem to see conspiracies and ulterior motives in just about anything the Town Council is involved in, for us this state-approved program seems like a win-win for residents and the town.

It’s not a big win-win, mind you, but it’s still a win.

When April 1 rolls around, the town will become the electricity provider for all its residents and businesses, unless they opt out. The good news for Apple Valley residents is that will result in a 3 percent savings on a portion of their monthly electric bill, the portion that applies to electricity generation. It’s not a 3 percent savings on your entire bill.

For most people, that 3 percent will only amount to a dollar or two every month. The higher your electricity use, the more you’ll save. For Apple Valley businesses that consume a lot of electricity, it will be more helpful. Because of that, this program should be an incentive for businesses thinking about relocating to consider Apple Valley.

But even if you only save a buck or two, it’s a buck or two better than you’ll do if you continue with Southern California Edison as your electricity provider. Just about everything seems to be going up these days, from gasoline to food, so we say take any savings you can get. Plus, if you have solar installed on your home, Apple Valley’s program will pay you double for your excess energy compared to what Edison does.

Though some are concerned about the $2.5 million loan the town is taking from its General Fund to pay for start up costs, we don’t see a big reason to worry. Town officials say the loan will be repaid with interest and the electricity they purchase will be paid for by residents who receive it. There’s not a big financial risk here.

Not a lot of people are familiar with the Community Choice Aggregation program that Apple Valley is becoming part of, but it has been around for several years and more and more cities and counties are joining. The prime reason many have decided to do so is not so much to try to save residents money but to be able to access more renewable energy. Californians has been the nation’s green energy leader, as we can see from all the rooftop solar in the High Desert and throughout the state.

Remember, the state has mandated utility companies to obtain 33 percent of all their energy from renewable sources by 2020 and that percentage rises to 50 by 2030. Apple Valley Choice Energy already has met the 2020 mandate with its five-year contract with Shell and the town feels confident it will meet the 2030 mandate too.

In fact, Apple Valley residents who feel strongly about reducing their carbon footprint can do so by paying $2 per month to ensure at least 50 percent of their electricity comes from renewable sources.

Our View: The Choice seems clear in Apple Valley, by Daily Press Editorial Board, Daily Press, March 11, 2017.

Apple Valley Choice Energy Information Meeting Draws Full House

APPLE VALLEY — Beginning April 1, town residents will have a simple choice when it comes to electricity, Apple Valley Public Services Manager Joseph Moon told a large crowd on Tuesday afternoon: Save money or don’t.

A near-capacity crowd estimated at 300 people turned out at the Apple Valley Conference Center for one of two informational meetings on the town’s Choice Energy program. A second meeting was held Tuesday night.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a choice for citizens of Apple Valley and save money,” Moon said. “You can do that or not.

“Before this, how many choices did you have for energy? You had one choice (Southern California Edison). Now you do have a choice.”

Unless residents opt-out of the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, the town will become Apple Valley’s default energy provider on April 1. All that means is the town has the opportunity to buy energy on the open market and sell it to its residents at a lower rate than Southern California Edison now offers.

Moon said Apple Valley has signed a five-year contract with Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of Shell Oil, thus locking in a stable electricity rate for its residents for those five years.

That’s why the town will be able to offer a 3 percent savings to residents on the cost of that electricity, Moon said. He said Southern California Edison will continue to transmit the energy, send out residents’ electricity bills and handle any issues that may arise, such as downed power poles or outages. The 3 percent savings won’t apply to a resident’s total monthly bill, just that portion of the bill that pertains to energy use. (For example, SCE bills for energy transmission separate of use.)

Though this program is new to the Victor Valley, it’s not new to the state. The city of Lancaster has been involved in the CCA program, as well as several Northern California cities.

“There are one million customers in California under the CCA umbrella,” Moon said. “Most of them are up north. This will be commonplace in the next year or two. We are at the forefront.

“I started looking at CCAs in 2010. But in 2010 it was not feasible. It would have cost too much for citizens. Finally, in late 2015, early 2016 it became feasible, because the cost of energy had gone down.”

“Lancaster has had it a couple years now and it’s been very beneficial,” Town Manager Frank Robinson said. “They started out just providing to commercial customers, then opened it up to residential.

“Now we’re getting calls from other communities, not just here in the Valley but also down the hill.”

Robinson said he thought having a CCA could help Apple Valley attract businesses, especially those whose energy use is substantial, as 3 percent savings could be an a significant amount of money.

The great thing for the town is it doesn’t take on the cost of generation or transmission, both Moon and Robinson said, all it has to do is buy the energy, which residents ultimately pay for.

Although Moon said the General Fund will loan the program $2.5 million for startup costs — which he said would be repaid with interest — Southern California Edison will continue to deliver the electricity to residents’ homes or to businesses.

After Moon’s presentation, he and one of the town’s consultants spent more than an hour answering residents’ questions. Some of the questions were fairly straightforward, while others were speculative, wild or both. Moon said many had no basis in fact or reality.

Opting out is pretty simple. If you don’t want to save money, you don’t have to, Moon said. Just let the town know. There will be an opportunity to opt back in, however, you can’t bounce in and out of the program at will.

There are no fees to either opt out or opt back in, Moon said.

Through its contracts, the town already is guaranteed to meet the state mandate of 33 percent energy from renewable sources by 2020, Moon said. He said the town will get more than 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources. If residents want to support the environment and ensure 50 percent use of renewable energy, Moon said they can opt to do so by paying $2 more per month.

Apple Valley Choice Energy Information Meeting Draws Full House, by Steve Hunt , Victorville Daily Press, March 7, 2017.

UPS Announces $18M Solar Energy Expansion

Parcel giant UPS this week announced plans to implement solar energy systems in at least eight additional U.S. facilities by the end of the year.

The $18 million initiative will expand the company’s solar capacity by nearly 10 megawatts, a five-fold increase from its current capacity. The expansion will include the purchase of more than 26,000 solar panels.

Once completed, those facilities will produce half of their daily energy use via solar power. The overall project is expected to curb about 8,200 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, as well as provide additional flexibility to UPS, which will own a significant portion of its long-term power supply.

The company currently utilizes solar panels in Palm Springs, Calif., and three facilities in New Jersey. Additional expansion is expected in the next several years, officials said.

“We have a significant number of facilities that are well positioned to deploy solar at scale and increase our sustainable energy options for our buildings and electric vehicles,” UPS Director of Facilities Procurement Bill Moir said in a statement.

UPS Announces $18M Solar Energy Expansion, by Andy Szal, Manufacturing.net, February 9, 2017.