County moves to stop solar farm

Will also warn San Bernardino County of future ConEdison project

County officials have ordered work to stop at the solar farm at Panoche Valley after negotiations broke down with operator ConEdison Development.

“They’re also submitting for a project down in San Bernardino,” Board Chairman Jaime De La Cruz said by phone last week. “We’re sending them a letter to let them know what kind of individuals they’re working with.”

San Benito County sent out notices of violation and default to the solar farm operator and any companies associated with the project on September 14.

This comes after the county issued a notice of default July 24.

According to the county, ConEdison Development is in breach of the development agreement, because the company failed to establish a business location in the unincorporated area of the county, resulting in a loss of both sales and property tax revenue.

They also claim the company owes sales tax and there are not enough local workers at the solar farm, which was part of the initial agreement.

“The county hasn’t received a single cent of owed sales tax,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. The county also believes the solar operator is not complying with environmental guidelines.

“What was really the tipping point for the board was [ConEdison Development] did not want to comply with the environmental impact report or road improvements for Panoche Road,” said Botelho. “That’s a deal breaker.”

The Board of Supervisors spent weeks negotiating with ConEdison Development trying to come to an agreement on how to move forward without impacting work at the site.

“It’s a sad thing to know a group like ConEdison Development would take advantage of San Benito County,” De La Cruz said. “Hopefully they’ll comply with the regulations and agreements that have been set in place.”

The Panoche Valley Solar Farm operator announced in July the project would be cut from 247 megawatts to a current projected size of 127 megawatts because of a court settlement between ConEdison Development and environmental groups including the Sierra Club.

The agreement reduced the size of the Panoche Valley Solar Farm to around 1,300 acres, with over 26,000 acres set aside as conservation land for endangered species like the giant kangaroo rat.

The drastic decrease in size meant the county would lose on sales and property tax, dropping from $25.6 million to $8.9 million.

Supervisors Jerry Muenzer and Robert Rivas didn’t respond to requests for comment. Supervisor Mark Medina did not want to comment for the article at this time.

ConEdison Development was not immediately available for comment.

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