More big utility firms here to profit from Eastern Sierra resources without a benefit to us? That’s how Inyo officials have described the latest proposal by BrightSource Energy to develop a $2.7 billion solar power plant in the Death Valley area. The Los Angeles Times picked up on the story and found two other counties with similar gripes. As the Times story says, “Counties that invited the projects expected jobs and taxes not a drain on their budgets.”
Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio, pictured in the Times article, said, “We don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.” Carunchio has reported locally that the State Energy Commission has all the regulatory power over big solar projects. He said Inyo has found that BrightSource will get tax breaks and not pay their fair share of taxes. He has said that their contributions will not cover the high cost of public services required by their project. In short, Inyo would lose money and gain only a handful of local jobs. Inyo and BrightSource, however, are in negotiations.
The LA Times article says at first it looked like the solar project would give Inyo County property taxes that would boost the general fund by 17%. The story reported that an economic consultant hired by Inyo found that property tax revenue would amount to a fraction of the customary amount because parts of the plant qualify for a solar tax exclusion. The story also says that “Fewer than ten local workers would land permanent positions and just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents.” Plus, as Carunchio has told Sierra Wave Media, workers are more likely to spend their money in Nevada which is closer than Inyo towns.
The Times also says that the solar project would cost Inyo $11 million to $12 million during the 30-month construction phase on a road upgrade and more. Inyo officials have said that once the project is up and running, it would cost taxpayers about $2 million per year in more law enforcement and other services.
The Times story says there are similar stories in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. In addition to serious money concerns, counties are concerned about visual impacts. At the same time, Governor Brown continues to push hard for development of renewable energy. Counties faced with solar plants say fine, but give us a fair share of the money.