Supervisors to grant permit for 4,400-acre solar power project

RIVERSIDE - Riverside County supervisors are expected to sign off on agreements with a solar power company planning to build a generating facility near Blythe that will net the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and create several hundred construction jobs.

The 4,400-acre McCoy Solar Energy Project will require use of county roads and the stringing of transmission lines across county land, requiring the operators to obtain a conditional use permit, as well as enter into a 30-year development agreement and get an environmental impact report certified by the Board of Supervisors.

During a Feb. 25 public hearing, board members were unanimous in their support for the project but withheld formal approval until the Office of County Counsel had an opportunity to vet last-minute details.

The board may vote on the matter without discussion Tuesday since no additional public testimony is scheduled.

According to county Transportation & Land Management Agency documents, the McCoy Solar Energy Project will entail erecting 516,000 solar arrays across 4,442 acres, with the possibility of generating up to 750 megawatts of photovoltaic energy.

The initial build-out will involve installing solar panels on 2,262 acres of mostly U.S. Bureau of Land Management property north of Blythe Airport, near the intersection of Black Rock Road and Mesa Drive, documents stated.

As part of the county's agreement with McCoy Solar LLC -- a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy, -- the developers will be granted easements to facilitate portions of the project, including the placement of a ``Gen-Tie Line'' that will carry wattage to a power substation run by Southern California Edison about 16 miles away.

The solar power will be fed directly to the statewide grid, according to TLMA documents.

Around 340 construction jobs will result from the project, and 20 full-time permanent positions will be supported, county officials said.

McCoy Solar will be paying $1.21 million in development impact fees to the county up-front and make ongoing payments of $150 per acre under county policy B-29, enacted in 2011 to ensure the county receives compensation from developers for utilization of land that might otherwise go to farming, recreation and housing, as well as for the permanent alteration of pristine desert landscapes.

According to county officials, 200,000 of the roughly 300,000 acres in California eyed for solar development lies between Palm Springs and Blythe.

Under the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, California's so-called greenhouse gas emissions must be scaled back to 1990 levels. That includes a renewable energy mandate that 33 percent of all production sources be from solar, wind, natural gas and anything other than fossil fuels by 2020.

Critics say the mandate will result in mounting energy costs for consumers and businesses, but proponents argue it's the only way to achieve clean-air standards.

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