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Supervisor opposes massive solar project in San Bernardino County [Updated]

November 13, 2009 |  5:51 pm
A solar energy project proposed for development on public land in the Mojave Desert would create jobs mostly for Las Vegas and electricity for San Francisco at the expense of the relatively pristine area of east San Bernardino County where it would be built, San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said Friday.

In an interview, Mitzelfelt, whose district includes the Ivanpah Valley project site about 20 miles south of Las Vegas, said BrightSource’s proposed 440-megawatt, 4,000-acre Solar Electric Generating System, “should not go forward.” [Update: An earlier version of this post listed the project as having 100 megawatts.]

The system is among 130 renewable energy applications to build wind and solar projects on more than a million acres of public land under review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission. Companies hope to begin construction on about a dozen of those projects by late next year.

State and federal regulators said the BrightSource project is furthest along in the process and could break ground late next year. Conservationists, however, are concerned about its impacts on several rare bat, bird, plant and reptile species including the threatened California desert tortoise.

The development of solar power facilities in the desert has been a top priority of the Obama administration as it seeks to ease the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels and address climate change.

“Obviously, there is a lot of political pressure to get this project expedited and under construction,” Mitzelfelt said. “But its impacts in San Bernardino County and sensitive and scenic Mojave Desert environment are not worth the benefits.”

“I would do everything I could to advance a project that would provide jobs, induce economic investment and increase the tax base in our county,” he said. “This is not that project.”

BrightSource spokesman Keely Wachs disagreed.

"Considering the project has been going through a state and federal environmental review process for more than two years, and will generate 1,000 jobs, $250 million in wages and more than $400 million in local and state tax revenue, we're surprised to see the supervisor's press release," Wachs said in a statement.

"We look forward to meeting with Supervisor Mitzelfelt and his staff," Wachs added, "to clarify any misunderstandings they might have about the Ivanpah project."

-- Louis Sahagun

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