Land that once was home of an environmental hazard is now generating clean solar electric power, Kern County Director of Planning and Resource Development Director Lorelei Oviatt said last week.
The property is in Cantil, a small community north of California City.
In the mid-1990s sewage sludge was transported to farms in the Cantil area from several southern California cities and spread on land used to grow alfalfa.
Cantil residents protested and then-Kern County Supervisor Steve Perez and his top aide, the late Don Maben, took Cantil residents complaints to the board of supervisors.
Residents and businesses along the route of the sewage haulers also complained, especially fast-food operators in Mojave unhappy with the smelly trucks parking anywhere near their businesses. School bus drivers and riders who drove behind the stinking vehicles also complained.
Maben and I visited an L.A. plant where the stuff was collected and processed.
All of this resulted in county voters approving a ballot measure drafted by Perez called Keep Kern Clean being approved, a measure invalidated by the courts ten years later.
Perez’s action did result in eliminating the smelly sewage sludge being spread in East Kern.
Now, land that once was a problem has become a source of clean energy in a county that is one of the leading U.S. sources of renewable energy.
In a telephone interview, Oviatt said interest in renewable energy in the Cantil area began when a firm called Beacon Energy proposed building a thermal-powered energy plant in the area in the mid-1990s.
“That would have used a lot of water and been too complicated and too expensive, so they turned to solar” she said.
I attended one information meeting on the plan at the Bureau of Land Management’s Jawbone Visitor Center.
The main objection was the plan to use water in a desert (!) to generate power, one of many unsuccessful proposals over the years to mess with East Kern’s water by polluting or trying to steal it.
At that point, “Kern County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power started talking,” Oviatt recalled.
LADWP has a mandate to increase the amount of power the city uses to be generated by renewable resources began installing wind and solar generation projects in Kern.
In addition to generating clean power, renewable energy also generates jobs, business, and tax revenues.
“State law will not allow counties to re-assess property used to generate solar power but we have made a determination that we can re-assess land used for battery storage because we can store electricity generated by wind energy as well as solar,” Oviatt explained. “We have told every company that we will re-assess them for batteries in buildings.”
(Southern California Edison has an experimental battery storage building at Monolith).
“We’re not sure what that will bring in but that’s the name of the game,” she said.
“We also have an agreement with (DWP) that we get the sales tax they pay for the solar panels,” Oviatt noted.
“We also asked that they hire 20% of the workers locally and they gave us 80 percent.”
“So that area (Cantil) became a very rich center for renewable energy, centered on their Barren Ridge power line that runs from L.A. up to Inyo County and their local power station,” Oviatt noted.
The power is generated by several private firms that have power purchase agreements with DWP.
“Now they’re going to do battery storage which we do not require but everybody wants it so we’re processing it,” she said.
Oviatt said that a benefit of solar power projects in the Cantil area is that it replaces farming which generated dust.
“If we did not have solar on that 4,000 to 5,000 acres we would have even more dust over the town of Cantil so it has really been a good solution,” Oviatt noted.
Oviatt said the county worked with Red Rock Canyon State Park officials who were concerned about solar projects being visible from the park, “we configured them so they can’t be seen from the campgrounds in the park,” she said.
Some concerns about dust from solar projects have been voiced by Cantil area residents.
Long-time area resident and community leader Dawn Martic said dust from solar project sites is a continuing problem.
Martin, who has been active in ongoing efforts to reduce dust in the area, said she regularly interacts with solar industry representatives and county officials on the issue.
“They do not maintain their property to reduce dust,” Marin said of some of the firms.
The major problem in the Cantil area, which Martin acknowledges, is that it is downstream from silt that flows from Red Rock and Jawbone canyons when it rains.
When the silt dries it becomes dust.
In the latest of many efforts over the years to try to control dust in the area, at their meeting Thursday, the Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District board if directors approved an agreement with the Antelope Valley Dust Control Group for dust control planning and mitigation measures in the region, according to EKAPCD Air Pollution Control Officer Glen Stephens. P.E.
Stephens said dust in the area does not interfere with solar panels an is easily removable.
New Cantil project proposed
Kern County supervisors will consider approving a new solar project proposed for the Cantil area at their March 26 meeting at 2 p.m. in their chambers at 1116 Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield.
The Eland 1 Solar Project by 8MinuteEnergy, LLC, would generate 500 megawatts of clean energy according to a notice from the Clerk of the Board.
Current zoning on the land proposed for the project is Exclusive Agriculture.
According to the notice, the project would be connected to LADWP’s nearby Barren Ridge substation by 230 kilovolt power lines.
The project site is in the vicinity of Phillips, Cheyenne, Dodson and Neuralia roads and is between Cantil and California City.