QUARTZ HILL — Solar energy company sPower won approval Wednesday to build a 30-megawatt solar facility on 155 acres east of 110th Street West between avenues G and H in Antelope Acres.
The privately owned solar energy company sought approval from the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission for a conditional use permit and adoption of the mitigated negative declaration to construct the facility.
The Commission heard testimony from people who expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the facility on vegetation, wildlife and the climate, and from those who praised the jobs the project will bring to the Antelope Valley.
About 15 Antelope Valley residents provided testimony via a remote hookup at Quartz Hill Library. Seven speakers testified from Los Angeles.
Antelope Acres resident Merrylou Nelson expressed concern about the cumulative effects of solar projects in the community in regard to climate change.
“Items like the environment under transmission lines have been taken seriously and included in a protective ordinance, but the potential of changing our local environment by installing millions of solar panels is being ignored,” Nelson said.
Don Geoschl, president of the Antelope Valley Audobon Society, clarified he is not against solar energy projects.
“What I am against is the improper placement of the solar fields endangering wildlife and destroying wildlife property,” Geoschl said.
In particular, Geoschl referenced the removal of a red-tail hawk nest in January from an sPower project site by a former sPower contractor.
Resident Shane Voloshin, who lives across from the proposed solar facility site, expressed numerous concerns, including those about the outside perimeter landscape plants near other facilities.
“I’ve noticed they’ve failed; approximately 50% of the plants that they have planted and tried to maintain have died. They’re never replaced,” Voloshin said.
Voloshin also described the movement of the photovoltaic panels as a loud, grinding sound. He also said the road conditions on 110th Street West are destroyed and getting worse.
“It will change the rural character and possibly the climate of the west Antelope Valley,” resident Judith Fuentes said.
Fuentes added the project exacerbates the increase of solar generating facilities in an area where there are already enough.
Ironworker Frederick Viszneki spoke in favor of the project.
“For the past five years I’ve been on many of these solar projects. It gives our youth a direction in life when they get out of high school,” Viszneki said.
Ironworker apprentice Justin Van Hosen said the solar project is beneficial for those who live in Lancaster because they are able to work close to home.
Susan Zahnter, director of the Association of Rural Town Councils, expressed concerns about the cumulative impacts of all solar and wind facilities in the Antelope Valley including Kern County, for an estimated 97,280 acres of renewable energy.
“It’s unconscionable that the rural communities bear the burden of this. These are not just quiet, wonderful places. They’re chain-linked fenced, barbed wired, closed off wildlife corridors,” Zahnter said.
James Bangs, an apprentice ironworker, said the union job provided by solar energy projects helped changed his life.
“This isn’t just co-workers that you work with but it’s a brotherhood and a family,” Bangs said.
Mitch Klein, a business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in testimony from Los Angeles, said they give jobs and careers to at-risk youth, veterans, and anyone who wants a job.
“It pays good wages and decent benefits … It’s all people from the community,” Klein said.
Antelope Acres resident Renato Shordon said he is opposed to the project.
“We are being enveloped by this crap, and that’s what it is. … This is a destruction,” Shordon said, speaking in Los Angeles.
Alton Wilkerson, a journeyman inside wireman with IBEW Local 11, lives in Lancaster.
“It does create a lot of jobs for men and women in our community,” Wilkerson said.
Jim Goltche, a property owner in the Antelope Valley, spoke in favor of the project.
“It creates job, it creates a lot of benefit for the local economy, taxes and other benefits,” Goltche said.
The ground-mounted utility-scale solar energy facility will be constructed on 147.5 acres on the project site in two independent phases constructed simultaneously. Approximately 7.5 acres will be set aside as dedicated on-site open space.
The facility would be comprised of photovoltaic panels, mounted on either fixed-tilt or single-axis tracking systems on steel support systems arranged in a north-south orientation, according to a staff report.
“We’ve done a lot of listening, working with the community, and working with a lot of environmental professionals to make sure that this is a project we can all be proud of,” Garret Bean, vice president of development for sPower, said during a presentation before the Commission.
sPower has invested more than $1 billion in the Antelope Valley, of which $150 million goes toward wages and benefits for employees, with more than 7,000 local construction jobs created.
“This project can supply up to approximately 5,000 homes with electricity,” Bean said, adding that is equivalent to more than 42 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
After the public testimony concluded, Bean said they resolved the removal of the nest with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In regards to the recent dust event, Bean said they worked with the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District to address it.
The project is expected to provide between 100 and 120 construction jobs in addition to subcontractor work to local businesses.
Vice Chairman Pat Modugno asked Bean at the start of the public hearing to look at the possibility of bringing reclaimed water to the project site.
“We’re trying to move towards better conservation with water. Even though we’re coming off a drought that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have additional droughts in the future,” Modugno said.
The Commission unanimously voted in favor of the conditional use permit and mitigate negative declaration after hearing testimony from people for and against the proposed project.