What to do with future revenue collected from solar power companies with projects in Riverside County will be on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda today.
Supervisor John Benoit has drawn up a resolution listing procedures for the use of development agreement fees, even while the board policy that established them — B-29 — remains in legal limbo because of a lawsuit filed soon after it was approved a year ago.
Under B-29, any solar power company — with the exception of those producing 20 megawatts or less — must pay an annual $450 per-acre fee for access to public rights-of-way and for altering desert landscapes.
In his proposal to the board, Benoit reiterates the reasons for enactment of the policy, which received unanimous approval, though one of its backers, Supervisor Bob Buster, lost his re-election bid to an ardent opponent of B-29 — former Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, who takes office Jan. 1.
“The amount of land required to operate solar power plants is significantly greater than the amount of land required to operate other renewable energy facilities and conventional energy facilities,” Benoit wrote.
“Now … existing and … proposed solar power plant development in the county equals or exceeds 100,000 acres. The permanent commitment of such a large part of the county to a single use … has serious consequences.”
County officials have emphasized that land blocked off for solar projects might otherwise be used for farming, recreation and housing. Around 20 projects are in the works, planned over an area extending east from Desert Center to Blythe.
Benoit’s proposal for managing and distributing funds acquired under B-29 calls for keeping the money in the districts where the solar arrays are installed. The supervisor represents the Coachella Valley and the entire desert region to the Arizona state line, in which most of the solar farms would be concentrated.
According to Benoit, solar fee receipts should be reserved for:
– employee training programs;
– affordable housing programs;
– campaigns to promote area tourism; and
– other activities to retain, preserve, attract and grow agricultural, recreational, industrial and commercial uses.”
Benoit’s resolution does allow up to 50 percent of solar development fee revenue to be spent anywhere in the county as long as the expenditures are “consistent” with the purpose of the resolution. Nonprofit groups and cities stand to gain from the fee collections, he said.
The Independent Energy Producers Association and the Large-scale Solar Association jointly sued the county in February to bar implementation of B-29, decrying the policy as a “sun tax” that was both unaffordable and illegal.
The plaintiffs argue development fee agreements violate Proposition 26, the “Stop Hidden Taxes” initiative approved by voters on Nov 2, 2010, as well as the state Mitigation Fee Act of 1987, which permits local agencies to charge developers for the use of public services, but only to compensate for a specific project impact.
A trial on whether the board policy should stand is set for May.