Riverside County, Solar Developer Reach Franchise Agreement Supervisor Benoit praises both sides for crafting unique proposal to give Riverside County as much as $35 million over 30 years, plus sales and use taxes
RIVERSIDE – Riverside County staff and Desert Sunlight have reached a 30-year agreement to give the solar developer access to county rights-of-way near Desert Center in exchange for annual payments of $600,000, adjusted yearly for inflation, Supervisor John J. Benoit announced Friday.
The franchise agreement could bring Riverside County as much as $35 million over the life of the agreement and would ensure the project’s sales and use taxes are allocated to Riverside County. The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to set an Aug. 16 public hearing on the agreement. The agreement will be final if approved at the public hearing.
“I’m very pleased to see that county staff and Desert Sunlight have reached an agreement that will help compensate county residents for the impacts of this 4,000-acre project in eastern Riverside County,” Supervisor Benoit said.
“I look forward to the hundreds of construction jobs this project will soon bring. I'm particularly pleased that beyond the sales and use taxes to be paid in Riverside County during construction, this agreement now provides for some long-term benefit to the county over the life of the project.”
Desert Sunlight, a subsidiary of First Solar, Inc., plans to build a 550-megawatt photovoltaic project known as Desert Sunlight Solar Farm just north of Desert Center, which sits about 60 miles east of Indio. The solar power plant would be the second-largest one in Riverside County.
The developer needs to construct a 220-kilovolt transmission line connecting the plant to a proposed Southern California Edison Red Bluff substation. The franchise agreement would allow Desert Sunlight to run its transmission lines in Kaiser Road rights-of-way and other areas within the county’s jurisdiction.
The project has conditional approval for a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, and the county drafted this unique franchise agreement in order to help Desert Sunlight reach its federal funding deadlines. The agreement is not designed to set a precedent for other solar projects.
County staff continue to work on crafting a solar policy that would apply to the many other solar projects in Riverside County making their way through various approval processes. Eastern Riverside County is considered a prime location for solar power plants, and an estimated 185 square miles have been targeted for development already.
Although many of the projects are being sited on federal land, as is the Desert Sunlight project, developers frequently need access to county rights-of-way or will require permits from Riverside County for other purposes. Those projects would be subject to the county’s solar policy, once completed and approved by the Board of Supervisors.
“I look forward to the day when the citizens of Riverside County will be fairly compensated for the impacts of the many solar projects that will permanently transform our desert,” Supervisor Benoit said. “We welcome the short-term economic benefits of these projects and are pleased we’re moving toward long-term benefits for Riverside County.”