23 January: By a 4:1 vote the Kern County Planning Commission approved the Clearwater/Yakima solar project by Recurrent Energy of San Francisco. At 1 square mile, the project would be larger than Mojave’s downtown area, located west of Sierra highway and north of Camelot Boulevard. Proponents advocate that the project would produce 40 megawatts of clean renewable energy and create up to 200 temporary jobs. Critics claim the project, located just 1,400 feet west of a residential area and school, would release dust and other pollutants, kicked up by Mojave’s strong winds, causing health problems for children and elderly residents. Many residents support renewable energy, but resent the location. But Recurrent Energy claims this is the only parcel in Mojave with a single owner willing to sell the property, and it is located close to a power sub-stations installed by the wind companies.
Kern County provided a video conference in the Mojave Veteran’s Hall for residents to participate in the hearing, but most citizens left after midnight. The hearing, which lasted over seven hours, involved 13 other items, but the agenda was changed twice so that the Recurrent project was heard last. Opening comments began at 1:30 am, and the final vote was not reached until 2:30 am, by which time most residents in Bakersfield and Mojave had gone home. Click here to watch the hearing online.
Commissioners also approved the Fremont Valley water & solar project by Aquahelio of Beverly Hills, by a vote of 3:2. The Aquahelio project plans to take 114,000 acre feet (AF) of water (37 billion gal) per year from the Fremont Valley aquifer located north of Cal City. The Fremont valley aquifer contains about 1 million AF of known safe water, and possibly up to 7 million AF of unexplored water at deeper levels. Historically the aquifer has a natural recharge rate of approximately 15,000 AF per year. Proponents argue that the project is necessary for Kern County’s long term water security. Critics argue that the project will gradually deplete a precious natural resource, sending water to other areas of Kern County and could be used for “fracking” or other industrial uses. Critics also argue that the project is an attempt to control a majority of East Kern’s water resources, making the entire county reliant on one company if drought conditions persist. Aquahelio offered a last-minute compromise to the commission, offering to stagger the water extraction to 5,000 AF in the first year, 10,000 in year two, 20,000 AF in year three, 50,000 in year four, 80,000 in year five, and 114,000 by year eight to continue indefinitely. The compromise also selects a joint Kern/Aquahelio commission to oversee the project to ensure that the company does not destroy ground water or private wells as extraction rates ramp up.
Opening comments began at 11:30 pm, and public comments continued well after midnight. Commissioners appeared divided as they began deliberations around 1:00 am with three out of five initially intending to vote “no” on the water portion of the project. However, when Aquahelio asked the commission to vote on the entire water and solar project in its entirety, one commissioner switched to a “yes” vote, delivering an approval for the project. Both projects are now referred to the Board of Supervisors who will make the ultimate determination whether these projects will go forward. Click here to watch the hearing online.
The Mojave Foundation is primarily concerned for the health and safety of our residents, and our long-term water security. Although we support renewable energy, and solar in particular, we must not disturb our ancient desert ecosystem before we have a credible plan in place to minimize the health impacts to our residents. We also call on Kern County to ensure that the Fremont Valley has a sustainable source of water for generations by providing intense scrutiny and oversight of all consumers to ensure that water extraction does not exceed our natural recharge rate.
Thank you for such a well balanced explanation of the projects and the outcome of the meeting. The concerns are valid, and I am especially worried about the Aquahelio project given what we know about historic “water-grabs” (Owens Valley) and current drought conditions. Victor Valley has a superior water banking system but there have been problems for communities “downstream”, like Barstow and Newberry Springs. I just hope this company sincerely has the best interests at heart for the residents of East Kern.
It appears that new math has taken hold. If an area has a replenishment/recharging of 15,000 AF/yr how does taking 80,000 and more work out for anyone? Just curious how 5,000 the first year was good enough to get this passed. Their offer that got the vote: “water extraction to 5,000 AF in the first year, 10,000 in year two, 20,000 AF in year three, 50,000 in year four, 80,000 in year five, and 114,000 by year eight to continue indefinitely”. East Kern is once again expendable…we have the industry and production, but not the bodies like Bakersfield. Sorry to see our short sided vote on this. Money talks and the good of the community get crushed again.