San Bernardino County is investing heavily to advance clean energy goals that are compatible with the state’s commitment to reduce the use of fossil fuels while balancing community concerns. After ten years of work, countless hours of County staff time and well over a million dollars worth of taxpayer money spent, the federal government is now threatening to upend all of this investment by throwing out Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is a ten-year-old effort that seeks to balance renewable energy development with conservation concerns on 11.5 million acres of state and federally owned public land. San Bernardino County, whose boundary constitutes 53% of the DRECP planning area, is one of seven counties participating in the effort. While no plan of this size is perfect, DRECP has settled many of the battles over industrial scale renewable energy across the California desert and hasn’t been subject to a single lawsuit. This is because a broad range of stakeholders, including federal, state and local governments, renewable energy developers, utilities, tribes and environmental groups, came together over eight years to develop the DRECP.
Fast forward to 2018, and the DRECP is it opened up by the Department of Interior, who manages much of the public land that the Plan encompasses. The explanation for this action is murky at best, but what we do know is that San Bernardino County and others will bear the consequences if the plan is opened up and rewritten.
Back In 2013, the County of San Bernardino received a Renewable Energy Conservation Planning Grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop the Renewable Energy and Conservation Element as part of its General Plan. The $1.1 million grant provided an opportunity to the County to address renewable energy on private and County-owned lands in parallel with the DRECP. Section 4.10 of the Element is still being decided and will control whether industrial scale solar energy plants are allowed to devastate local communities. This Element of the General Plan relies on DRECP in many ways.
Reopening the DRECP process will destabilize the hard-won balance of the current plan and could hurt our local efforts to plan for industrial scale renewable energy. Moreover, it will open the plan up to new battles, redundant rounds of study, and waste many more years and tax dollars.
When the state and counties put cash on the table, we expect results, not uncertainty. The federal government should stand down and allow California to move forward with this sensible, collaborative plan that aligns with San Bernardino County’s vision for a clean energy future. Otherwise, it’s money down the drain.
By BarBara Chavez
Rialto Planning Commissioner