San Bernardino County has banned utility-scale solar farms for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it does nothing to help the local community in the way of tax revenue (it is exempt from property taxes), nor does it satisfy the need for housing or jobs, and it debilitates the quality of life for local residents.
Regardless, Santa Barbara County wants to go all in on solar. Will this be another version of our marijuana debacle?
Meanwhile, please consider the fact that agriculture-zoned properties compose most of the land in the county. Yet our farmers and ranchers have suffered outright prohibitions, restrictions, exorbitant fees and torturous permit processes having to do with uses on their properties such as greenhouses, wineries, hoop houses, coolers, farm worker housing, family member housing, the ability to host events, such as weddings, along with alternative uses of the land, such as golf, not to mention oil and gas operations, the latter of which helps ranchers pay their bills.
The rationale? The preservation activists don’t want urban sprawl, leapfrog development, industrialization or non-ag intensification of these lands. They want to keep it rural and natural, or so they say.
Lost on all the people who want to preserve ag lands as a form of open space? The aforementioned land use opportunities can be considered essential to staying in business. Alternatively, many properties have been unduly converted from agriculture to estate living.
Hence, all lands outside the urban boundary are zoned agricultural and virtually no “other” uses were deemed “compatible” to agriculture, nor could agricultural lands be “converted” to other uses. Even uses that were essential for vertical integration, such as the ability to process grapes into wine and sell the same on the property, have been effectively constrained.
Our ranch lands can only handle so many cows per acre, due to our ever-recurring drought cycles. Hence, our area’s cattle operations must have an additional source of income to make a living. The fortunate ones have oil and gas mineral leases on their property — fortunate that is, until the county started doing everything it could to shut down oil and gas in our county, both onshore and offshore.
In spite of all these controls, prohibitions and machinations, the county is intending to allow utility-sized solar “farms” to be built on ag-zoned lands, thereby giving this industrial scale, non-ag use, a free pass on all the aforementioned impositions.
Accordingly, COLAB requested the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the aforementioned uses when they consider rewriting all these land-use policies to accommodate utility-sized solar because our farmers and ranchers need options more than California needs more redundant solar power. Our request was denied.
Surely you are well aware that there is no way to adequately and affordably store solar power. Hence, we often must pay Arizona to take excess solar off our hands during the daylight hours.
Conversely, for example, our grape growers are forced to truck 50% of their harvest out of the county to process the same. Does that make sense to anyone?
Finally, how is it that once again, the Coastal Zone and Montecito, not to mention the Santa Ynez Valley, will, in the end, most likely get a pass from this agricultural land conversion to utility-sized solar? South County in particular has more power outages than anyone else.
There is no rationale for keeping the south off limits while parking these projects, like the Lompoc wind farm, exclusively in North County, except for the fact that the residents in the tony areas of the county don’t want to have to look at them, due to the tendency to be blinded by the light (solar glare) or shook by the bad vibrations (wind turbines).
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.