From the Desert Sun….
Joshua Tree residents cry foul over airport solar plan
Joshua Tree’s defunct airport could be turned into a mid-sized solar farm — and many of the town’s residents are livid.
Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources has proposed a 20-megawatt solar power plant at the Roy Williams Airport, which has been shuttered for several years. Southern California Edison has a 20-year contract to buy the electricity generated at the site, which is located about a mile north of Highway 62.
But residents of Joshua Tree are crying foul, arguing that the 115-acre project would hurt tourism, stir up dust and threaten their community’s rural character. They also insist that the Roy Williams Airport — if revived — could be a boon to the town’s economy, which relies largely on out-of-town visitors drawn to Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree resident Buck Buckley rents vintage trailers to vacationers, on a plot of land from which the solar farm would be visible. He said his guests come to see “unspoiled, unchanged, open space, which they don’t have in large cities, and don’t even have in Yucca Valley right across the way.”
Such concerns aren’t unusual in Joshua Tree, where residents are currently fighting a plan to open a Dollar General store downtown. But they also reflect broader opposition to renewable energy projects across the rural communities of the High Desert.
That opposition has been stoked by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a federal-state effort to encourage solar, wind and geothermal development. More than 1,000 people — many of them hailing from small, rural communities like Yucca Valley, Lucerne Valley and Pioneertown — have signed a petition urging regulators to prioritize rooftop solar over standalone desert projects.
International oil and gas conglomerate BP initially proposed to turn Joshua Tree’s airport into a solar farm a few years ago. But BP pulled out of the solar business in 2011, and NextEra acquired the project rights the next year.
If San Bernardino County approves the project, NextEra hopes to finish construction no later than December 2016 — just in time to take advantage of a 30 percent federal investment tax credit that expires at the end of that year.
For proponents of renewable energy, projects like this one are critical to California’s efforts to limit climate change, which is already having an impact across the desert. State law requires Southern California Edison and other utilities to buy 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, and policymakers have set a long-term goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Climate change or no, Joshua Tree residents say they’ve seen enough solar projects for a lifetime.
David Fick — who has lived in the town for 28 years and can see Roy Williams Airport from his living-room window — cited a litany of grievances with the nearby Cascade solar project, a 24-megawatt plant that SunEdison brought online in late 2013. That project, Fick said, has stirred up enormous dust devils.
“We have enough solar panels,” Fick said. “This is exploitation of our area, and it’s detrimental in many levels.” …
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