Solar projects shouldn’t be a burden

Solar panels at the California Valley Solar Ranch.
Solar panels at the California Valley Solar Ranch. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Some California counties may be getting burned by solar power, but thanks to local control — and the diligence of county officials — SLO isn’t among them.

Through the permitting process, the county was able to require two big solar projects on the Carrizo Plain to pay their own way for public services.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case elsewhere.

Other California counties are finding large-scale solar projects more of aburden than a blessing, according to a Los Angeles Times article published in Monday’s Tribune.

Those counties have been stuck paying for road construction, public safety and other public services, and due to property tax exemptions for solar projects, they’ve received little tax revenue to offset those costs.

Why the big difference in the way the projects were handled?

Projects in Inyo, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have come under the authority of the California Energy Commission, which has jurisdiction over solar projects with a thermal component.

Because the projects on the Carrizo Plain are strictly solar, they fell under county control.

Local officials were able to require applicants to reimburse the county for any additional expenses — such as staffing the Carrizo Plain fire station 24/7.

The county nailed down agreements whereby sales and use taxes on equipment and materials for the solar projects would go to county coffers. That’s expected to generate $22 million during the construction phase, and if it doesn’t, the companies have agreed to make up the difference.

County staff members, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors deserve credit for looking out for local taxpayers.

That said, we don’t believe that other counties should have to shell out millions of dollars from their already depleted coffers on account of solar projects.

For one thing, it’s unfair, and for another, switching to cleaner forms of energy benefits us all — no matter where we happen to live.

The state may have the final say on issuing permits, but it’s likely to meet huge resistance from local communities if it shoves such projects down the throats of unwilling counties that simply can’t afford to put out the welcome mat for solar projects.

It’s time to develop a more equitable method of assessing the upfront costs of commercial solar — one that requires the solar industry to pay its fair share.