County maneuvers to get solar energy bonds

The county may declare itself an “economic recovery zone” in order to grease the skids for issuance of solar energy bonds allowed only in areas that are in fiscal trouble.

The county administration wants the Board of Supervisors to approve the designation so that the $12 million in bonds can be issued, allowing Sun Edison LLC to build nine solar power projects.

One project would be at Atascadero State Hospital. The others would be for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

Combined, they would create 2,200 kilowatts of solar power, providing half of each site’s electricity needs and reducing the carbon impact by 27,000 metric tons over 20 years, according to a staff report from Assistant County Administrator Dan Buckshi.

To move the bonds forward, the county must declare itself an economic recovery zone.

Such a zone, according to Buckshi, has to have “significant poverty, unemployment, home foreclosure rates or general distress.”

“Given the significant increase in home foreclosures and unemployment rates, the county meets these criteria,” Buckshi wrote.

In 2009, 2,603 notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process, were filed, a nearly 39 percent increase from 2008, when 1,877 were recorded, according to data from All-American Foreclosure Service in San Luis Obispo.

A total of 1,088 trustee deeds, marking the final step when the property goes back to the lender, were recorded in 2009, a 14 percent increase from 2008, when 954 were recorded. By contrast, there were only 378 recorded in 2007 and 67 the prior year.

As for unemployment, the rate in January of 10.6 percent was the highest ever measured for the county since the state began tracking the jobless. The figure for January 2009 was 7.9 percent.

Jim Liptak, a Paso Robles real estate broker and past president of the California Association of Realtors, told The Tribune in February that while the county has not been insulated from the recession, in the long-term it is in a better position than other regions to weather the economic downturn. He said the unemployment rate continues to be lower than in other counties in the state, and the Central Coast is an attractive place to live.

Recovery zone facility bonds, Buckshi wrote, allow private business to issue tax-exempt bonds, which are generally available only to governments and not-for-profit enterprises. Sun Edison would be the beneficiary in this case.

In addition to Atascadero State Hospital, Sun Edison LLC wants to create solar facilities at five locations in San Luis Obispo, two in Los Osos and one in Morro Bay.

The plan needs to go through a public hearing, and Buckshi is asking the Board of Supervisors this Tuesday to set a formal hearing date of April 6.