Riverside County supervisors this week approved a public use permit and signed off on environmental studies that clear the way for construction of a 1,200-acre solar power project north of Desert Center, from which the county will eventually net tens of thousands of dollars in annual fees.
"This is a good project. It took a long time to get to this point. I appreciate the effort of everyone involved," said Supervisor John Benoit on Tuesday, in whose Fourth District EDF Renewable Energy's Desert Harvest Solar Farm will be built. "Solar energy is a way to improve the world and reduce greenhouse gases."
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant a public use permit and accept the generally positive findings of an environmental impact study on the 150-megawatt generating facility. The study was done by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Most of entire project will be on federal land. However, roughly six miles of Desert Harvest's 220-kilovolt transmission line will use county rights of way along Kaiser Road. The transmission line also will cross 22 acres of private property under the county's jurisdiction, according to the Riverside County Transportation & Land Management Agency.
According to county and federal documents, Desert Harvest will, after becoming fully operational, combine its current with that from the adjacent Desert Sunlight Solar Farm to deliver electricity to Southern California Edison's Red Bluff substation.
The electricity produced by Desert Harvest's solar arrays is expected to reach a level capable of powering about 45,000 homes and business, BLM officials said.
A franchise agreement between the county and developer is slated for approval in the next few weeks, under which the latter will have to make annual payments of $153 per acre -- increasing 2 percent annually -- in accordance with board policy B-29.
The policy, with few exceptions, requires solar developers to compensate the county for the use of land that might otherwise go to farming, recreation and housing, as well as for altering the landscape.
Benoit said the policy mandates that 25 percent of the revenue collected from a developer must be returned to the locality affected by the project.
B-29 was challenged in court nearly three years ago by solar power providers, culminating in a compromise settlement with the county, which initially sought $450 per acre.
"We went through a lengthy process to develop the policy, which has worked out very well," Benoit said. "Certainty is what the industry needed, and it got it."
Desert Harvest, in the planning stages since 2011, will be built in three phases. It will start out as 10 acres, expand to 1,043 acres, then reach 1,208 acres at "full build-out" in the next few years, according to federal documents. Construction is expected to start before year's end, with up to 315 jobs being created.
Once complete, the generating facility will employ eight people full- time, county officials said.
– City News Service.