They like the idea of a major solar project in Inyo County, but the Board of Supervisors do not want to gamble with tax dollars when it comes to the service impacts of the BrightSource Energy Hidden Hills Solar project in far eastern Inyo. After two hours of talk Tuesday, the Board declined to support an agreement proposed by BrightSource but did approve a sales tax agreement of its own.
As Supervisor Rick Pucci said, it’s “an extremely complex matter.” He pointed to the national and state benefits of solar power but also to the potential costs to Inyo taxpayers, mostly for law enforcement and road costs in the project area which will include 170,000 solar panels that generate 250 megawatts of power.
Two reports faced the Supervisors – one in which the California Energy Commission claims Inyo will net more than $61 million over the course of the project and the other report from Inyo’s own consultant and staff that says the County will lose nearly $22 million. Supervisor Pucci said, “This huge discrepancy really bothers me.” He said as a representative of the public, “It’s difficult to be a gambler. We can’t gamble with the public’s money.”
Pucci also pointed out that a state agency, the California Energy Commission, has overall authority on this project. So, in the end, that agency can make the decisions. Meanwhile, Inyo has taken its stand – that BrightSource will cause some $90 million in impacts – mostly with the addition of seven Sheriff’s deputies and a new substation plus major repairs expected to the Old Spanish Trail road due to significantly increased traffic by 2300 employees on the project and delivery vehicles.
Both BrightSource and the County seemed to agree that the project will generate $7.8 million in sales taxes. BrightSource would agree to guarantee that much plus $1 million more if Inyo would agree not to seek the some $90 million in impacts.
BrightSource Vice President Chris Moore told the Inyo Board that there are different assumptions. BrightSource doesn’t think their project will require seven new deputies and a new substation. Moore said, “Two deputies might be needed during construction and then would go away over time.” He did agree BrightSource would repair the Old Spanish Trail if damaged.
Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio said County Department heads took a conservative approach when they estimated the cost impacts of the big solar project. Inyo Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jeff Hollowell said the Department does not agree with the estimate of two deputies for the new project.
The agreement proposed by BrightSource would guarantee $8.8 million but require Inyo County to agree not to go to the State for the some $90 million in impacts.
The private land owner working with BrightSource favored the project and so did a real estate agent connected with the Charleston View development in the area. Another land owner who owns a bar close to the project wants it to happen. The Tecopa Fire Chief Larry Levy warned of the need for more law enforcement.
The Supervisors unanimously approved their staff’s proposed agreement. It is unknown if more negotiations with BrightSource will follow.