Riverside County News Release: Supervisors unanimously approve solar policy with $450 per-acre payment
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a comprehensive solar power plant policy requiring large-scale solar developers to pay a $450 per-acre payment to compensate the county for the use of its property and for committing vast tracts of land exclusively to solar development.
Supervisor John J. Benoit, whose district is home to nearly all of the solar projects proposed in the county, offered credits and incentives that will allow the companies to reduce the amount they pay to the county by as much as 50 percent. Among the incentives is a credit for hiring local workers and a credit for creating permanent jobs for local workers.
“I’m convinced that this is the right thing to do, not for us, not for the Board of Supervisors, but for our grandchildren and the future of Riverside County,” Benoit said. “The jobs are coming. If I wasn’t sure of that, I wouldn’t be for this,”
The approval of the policy, including major changes to the County’s General Plan and zoning, comes after four months of negotiations between County representatives and representatives of 12 solar companies.
Many of the changes requested by the solar companies were incorporated in the policy, including a credit for any property taxes the developers pay. Large-scale solar projects are largely exempt from property tax in California, but developers had asked for recognition of the small payments they make, and the policy reflects those payments.
More than 20 projects are currently planned for the County, covering an estimated 118,000 acres in eastern Riverside County. The projects are expected to dramatically change the look of the desert, eliminating all other potential uses. The policy approved Tuesday addresses one of the largest land-use decisions the board has ever had to make.
“This is the responsible thing to do,” Chairman Bob Buster said, pointing out the historic nature of the vote.
The solar companies opposed the county’s initial proposal that the developers pay 2 percent on gross receipts and, later, a per-wattage fee. The County then proposed $640 per-acre payment which was opposed by solar industry representatives who wanted $140 per acre.
Supervisor Marion Ashley on Tuesday made a motion to lower the payment to $450 “to make it more competitive” for solar companies to build in Riverside County, and the other supervisors concurred.
To encourage more solar companies to come to Riverside County, Benoit offered the following incentives and credits:
A $1,500 per worker incentive for hiring local temporary construction workers from
Riverside or San Bernardino counties
A $2,500 per worker incentive for hiring permanent employees following completion of construction
A 3 to 5 percent reduction on the solar company’s base payment for collocation of transmission lines
• A 10 percent reduction for solar developers who begin work by Dec. 31, 2014
• A property tax credit for the portion that comes to Riverside County
To encourage more small solar projects, the Board of Supervisors said projects smaller than 20 megawatts will not be subject to the payment.
Benoit said eastern Riverside County has become the epicenter of solar farms for several reasons:
• Easy transmission access to keep interconnection fees low
• Superior sunshine (absorption)
• Plentiful flat land
• Close proximity to Los Angeles where the solar produced electricity will be sold
Supervisor Jeff Stone said Riverside County residents “must be compensated for the desert landscape that will be scarred forever.”
“Jobs are the most important thing we can do in this county,” Stone said. “Riverside County is setting a standard in the state and in the Sunbelt and others will be following suit.”