Wrangling over renewables: Counties Push Back on Newsom Administration Usurping Local Control

Kings County Supervisor Joe Neves guided his pickup to a stop next to a long line of chain-link fencing. On one side of a gravel road stood row after row of glinting solar panels. The automated mirrors pivot and turn, following the sun in its daily path across the Central Valley sky.

Neves, a big man with a wispy Santa Claus beard, was showing off the county’s newest mega solar power project, still under construction on 1,600 acres. A state-of-the-art facility, it includes powerful batteries to store and deliver power after the sun sets.

This solar plant in King County is one of the scores of new renewable energy puzzle pieces across the state considered vital to California’s transition to cleaner electricity and its pursuit of climate change solutions. 

Rural California counties like Kings — with lots of land, sunshine and wind — are the focal point for many of these projects. Now they are at the epicenter of a statewide controversy, too. 

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom pressured lawmakers to approve an energy plan that aimed to expedite and streamline construction of new clean energy facilities. Included is a controversial clause that lets developers bypass local permitting and instead turn to the California Energy Commission for fast-track approval.

The new strategy is an end run around local authorities who sometimes balk at allowing wind and solar facilities in their own backyards.

But if Newsom sees small, rural counties as impediments, Kings County begs to differ. Neves and other local officials have been busily opening up their county to solar projects for more than a dozen years. 

Far from scoffing at the idea of renewable energy, some Kings County farmers have embraced solar generation as a profitable problem solver – they get paid for the use of their barren land and can transfer the water to higher-value crops.

Whatever the intent of the new law, Kings County doesn’t think it’s the problem: Most projects in the county’s 40,000-acre solar zone receive approval in less than six months — in some cases in six weeks, county officials say.

“We are not unsophisticated, we know what we are doing,” Neves said. “We planned for this. We can see the future.”

Across the state, local officials were miffed at state officials for being excluded from the discussion as the law was being crafted behind closed doors in late June, then piqued again after it passed the Legislature and was signed by Newsom, meaning they no longer had the final say-so for projects in their counties.

“Local governments are viewed as an impediment, another layer you have to go through to get your project across the finish line. But we permit these facilities all the time. It’s one of the core functions we perform as local government,” said John Kennedy, a lobbyist for Rural County Representatives of California, which advocates for 39 small counties.

“To have that authority taken out of our hands and given to the Energy Commission — that much farther from the people, that much removed from local sensitivity — to have that authority clawed back is really painful,” he said. “We’re in the crosshairs, but we don’t think we are the right target here.”

While a few projects have been stalled by local officials, some energy developers said Newsom’s initiative is a solution in search of a problem.

“What is this proposal solving for?” said Alex Jackson, director of California state affairs for American Clean Power, an association of renewable energy companies.

“In general we work really well with local government. We have invested a lot in those relationships. We prefer to work with them rather than strong-arm them. Overall we don’t see this as unlocking the path to accelerating clean energy.”  

In his signing statement attached to the new bill, Newsom said the unprecedented pace of climate change means California must move faster to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The state must begin producing 50% more clean power in the next decade in order to meet its goals.

The new law, Newsom wrote, will “support and expedite the State’s transition to clean energy projects and help maintain energy reliability in the face of climate change.” The fast-track option through the Energy Commission promises developers a decision within 270 days and bypasses local approval. 

The new strategy, Newsom wrote, will help keep the lights on when demand peaks from extreme heat and drought, which are putting “unprecedented stress” on the state’s power grid. “Action is needed now,” he said.

Kings County: A prime place for generating energy 

Kings County, population 152,486 and home to Hanford and Kettleman City,  is well-situated to host renewable energy projects: It’s at the nexus of major north-south and east-west transmission lines and its power plants can readily dispatch electricity to the grid.

Solar projects already built on Kings County’s fallowed farmland are helping power Disneyland, and the newest development, called Slate Solar and Storage, will supply about 900 megawatts of electricity when it’s finished. Some will go to two Bay Area powerhouses: The BART transportation network and Stanford University. 

Occupying former watermelon, cotton and corn fields fallowed by drought,  developers are building solar farms in Kings County as fast as the world’s crippled supply chain will allow. To expedite the process, local planning officials created solar energy zones that have already been fully vetted and undergone comprehensive environmental analysis. 

The county has more than 21,000 acres of solar development, and the land, mostly private property, is leased or sold outright to companies.

Faced with rapidly rising energy costs, school districts and towns are investing in their own small-scale solar projects, Neves said, as have farmers looking for cheap ways to pump water and run equipment. 

“A humongous task” 

Whether funneled through the Energy Commission’s new process or approved by local authorities, new renewable energy development will have to come fast. 

Although California is well ahead of its interim goals for clean power – about 34% of its generation last year – getting to carbon-free by 2045 will be a challenge of the highest order.

With worsening climate models, electrification of transportation and buildings, the drought-driven crash in hydroelectric power, and the scheduled closure of fossil-fuel power plants, the sobering reality in California is this: At current rates the state will produce 40 gigawatts of clean power annually over the next decade, while preliminary projections show it needs 60 gigawatts a year — at a minimum. 

The need, given how rapidly demand is growing, is likely to increase.

“It’s a humongous task,” said Siva Gunda, vice chair of the California Energy Commission. “We’ve had 100 years to build the grid the way it is today and we’re redoing it in the next 20 years. At least we have a plan. We are digging ourselves out of a hole.”

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Comments

  1. Brenda Torres says

    BATTERY STOREAGE?!!! The Battery is just another questionable energy source to me…What is included in it’s make-up and how long is their lifetime and what/where will they be discarded…How will their source be mined and will they let off dangerous chemicals into our ground water after they are discarded??? Etc. Etc. Etc…..

  2. Brenda, NewScum doesn’t care about the HARD questions. commie dems don’t like to face facts. He just needs the rest of the country to notice what he’s doing to build up his campaign war chest and votes, when he makes his run for the White House!! You think he and his aunt Nanshee Pelosi give a hang about the invironment??

  3. Bogiewheel says

    What California needs is an “Electoral College” of Counties. There are 58 Counties of independent thought in this State and it appears that there are only three Counties, with singular thoughts, that call for all political action.

    Just reflect on the recent Roe vs. Wade where all decisions came from the Federal Government; Look what happened when the power returned back to the States.

  4. What California needs is election integrity where liberals don’t mass groups to go to the rural counties to do ballot harvesting which is legal in California precisely in order to manipulate elections for the Democrats.

    • Really??? says

      The State needs the traditional Primary System. No more Top Two.

      Then it needs to stop un-ending welfare, handouts to illegals, and the idiot Left Tech that vote for Democrats who now see the bankrupt ideas for the past 50 years.

      Democrats buy votes and promise gov. retirement instead of personal responsibility.

  5. The sky is not falling! The earth is not going to self destruct in 10 years! Climate change is a natural phenomenon that is cyclical, and that we have very little control over. However, this is the hill the libtards want to die on…and take us all with them. Their precious solar panels, batteries and ev’s are anything but eco-friendly. They are made by substances that use traditional power sources and materials to create. Batteries are made of lethal, dare I say planet-killing materials that cannot be recycled and there is no realistic way to dispose of. Will we go the way of the way of days past when tons of chemicals and waste was disposed of in landfills and illegally, endangering communities, contaminating land and water all around the country?

    So, today as this crap is being forced upon us, our way of life is being destroyed, our land is being stolen and the ecology of our communities is changing drastically. Solar panels contain toxic materials like lead that can leach out as they break down. Solar panels emit EMF radiation and the solar panel system, or photovoltaic system, creates dirty electricity that ultimately radiates EMF radiation into the home. Intermittency is one of the biggest problems that solar energy technology poses since the energy is only generated while the sun is shining. Never mind the enormous amount of water used by solar fields! All lithium ion batteries are considered hazardous material by the Department of Transportation. When a lithium-ion battery explodes, injuries can be catastrophic. A lithium-ion battery explosion can result in severe burns and, in rare cases, even death. One of the criticisms of lithium-ion batteries has long been that they cannot be recycled, that each new battery therefore requires fossil-fuel-powered energy-intensive mining of metals such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt. Need I go on?!? Nothing but massive contradictions from the global cooling, er I mean global warming, er, oh yeah, now it’s climate change . UNREAL!

    As I look back at a series of events that have been foisted upon us by the state: shutting down and limiting water to our farmers, ranchers and citizens because of the delta smelt; which “fallowed” large swaths of ag land, especially in the Central Valley; the takeover of lands, much ag land, for the “bullet train” that will stop at every hamlet going up the valley; the destruction of water ways and dams for fish to travel, the refusal of our “elected officials” to initiate Pat Brown’s water plan to help this state in times of drought…coincidence? I think not. And who is benefitting? The big wig politicians and the big cities like L.A.. and the Bay Area, all on the backs of farmers, ranchers and citizens in lesser populated areas, like the Central Valley.
    As the politicians continue to change the landscape of this state, littering it with solar panels, wind turbines and ev’s, they are using the very resources they are at war against from the oil industry, they are destroying the land that feeds the world, first building them on thousands of acres of land, then dumping these things in our landfills when they are no longer useful, polluting our land and water. Never mind these items are built in 3rd world countries and shipped here. Our politicians are nothing but whores, not concerned about the citizens they work for, nor the well-being this state. At the end of the day, it is all about power, control and money…for them! Not us! “Don’t buy the lie!”

  6. Really??? says

    At the end of the day, it is all about power, control and money…for them! Not us! “Don’t buy the lie!”

    JLKA now just how do you like this Democrat one party system.

    As long as you buy the lie voting for a Democrat is better then nothing this is what you get.

    Write in “no confidence”…. When the NC get more votes then the candidates of the Left then you will have a chance.

  7. If the Bay Area didn’t have such good weather, I’d have been outta’ here years’ ago…now I’m waiting for
    the smoke filled days of Sept. and Oct. when mysterious fires seem to crop up out of nowhere

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