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Several Green Projects Spring Up in Lancaster

The City of Lancaster is taking seriously a goal of becoming an alternative energy center in not only the state but the entire nation. The City Council recently approved dropping the cost to apply to install wind turbines on private residences and will next take up on Dec. 14 a solar energy project proposed by a New York firm on 180 acres on the west side of the city. The city has already approved the TA-High Desert project that will generate 20 megawatts of power after completion next year and has pending before it an application from Sunlight Partners. Renewable energy start up eSolar has a demonstration project inside the city limits as well. Outside the city’s boundaries are still more of these solar farms. Element Power US LLC seeks approval from Los Angeles County for its 230-megawatt green energy farm. Straddling Los Angeles and Kern counties is the AV Solar Ranch One proposed by First Solar and expected to be completed in 2013. With plenty of sunshine and areas where heavy winds are constant, the Antelope Valley is a natural for this type of development. Add in that utilities must meet a state mandate to have 33 percent renewable energy sources by 2020 City help Lancaster benefits from its growing reputation as a business-friendly city and one where alternative energy is welcome. “That tends to draw more types of companies into the area,” said Brian Ludicke, the city’s planning director. The Beautiful Earth Group looked at multiple sites before settling on the property it purchased at Avenue H and 90th Street West. The developer follows strict guidelines of going after land that has already been disturbed, such as farmland, and that is close to existing transmission lines. “It’s just the perfect solar site because it has all those things,” said Beautiful Earth’s President and CEO Lex Heslin. “It’s a very low impact site.” The city’s planning department in November approved changes to the general plan and zoning to allow the Beautiful Earth project to move forward. The company intends to put in two 19-megawatt solar panel farms made up of 8-foot high photovoltaic panels rotating on a single axis. The power generated could then be sent to a nearby substation or directly into transmission lines bordering the property. When considering these projects, the planning department looks at land use and zoning issues. The solar farms are easy to work with, Ludicke said, because the contentious issues of impacts on schools and traffic are absent. While the projects in Lancaster have not generated opposition, the same cannot be said for AV Solar Ranch One. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman went before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to get the project delayed, claiming the solar array would interfere with its radar test facility near the Tehachapi Mountains. County officials turned down the request. Purchase agreements Beautiful Earth is still in discussion on power purchase agreements for the energy its facility will eventually produce. But a big question facing the company is when approval will be given by the California Independent System Operator, the not for profit corporation operating a majority of the state’s high-voltage wholesale power grid. The ISO, however, is burdened with many applications so there is no telling when the okay will come, Heslin said. “You will hear that from all solar developers,” Heslin said. It is those types of bureaucratic delays that Lancaster is removing when it comes to business moving to the city and is what is behind the reputation of being business-friendly. “It is much more appealing to them if they can get a (conditional use permit) in four months instead of two years,” said Jocelyn Swain, an associate planner, environmental with the city. The city has taken similar steps with other energy efficient projects. When residential home builder KB Homes struck a deal to include solar panels, batteries, LED lights, and other energy-related materials from Chinese manufacturer BYD in four homes, the city waived its development fees and convinced the county not to collect construction fees. In November, the city council amended zoning regulations to make it easier for homeowners in some rural residential zones to install small wind turbines with a maximum rotor diameter of 24 feet. The council’s action also dropped the application fee to $350 from more than $1,000. Heslin credits the city’s progressive stance to Mayor R. Rex Parris, who understood before many other people the connection between economic development and alternative energy. Parris has gone on record saying that he wants to make the city the alternative energy capital of the world. Beautiful Earth is willing to help the city achieve that goal with more projects in the future in the Antelope Valley. “We expect to invest in a very big way,” Heslin said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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