It’s rare for any county in California to turn down the opportunity to score $700,000 in state grant money to help update its general plan or other renewable energy permitting regulations, but that appears to be what Riverside County has done.
A request for proposals issued March 11 announced up to $7 million in state money available to counties “to fund plans for the development or revisions of rules and policies that facilitate the development of eligible renewable energy resources, and their associated electric transmission facilities, and the processing of permits for eligible renewable energy resources.”
The deadline for applications was April 10, and five counties applied, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Inyo, Imperial and San Luis Obispo. All have tentatively been awarded funds, ranging from $603,000 to $700,000 — the maximum amount available to anyone county — according to an announcement released April 25.
I checked in with Andrew Ferrin, the grants and loan officer at the Energy Commission, who confirmed that Riverside County did not submit an application for the money. I also asked if, given that less than half of the available $7 million had been awarded if there would be subsequent opportunities to apply for the money.
He was unsure. The law under which the money was offered was for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, he said.
I am waiting to hear from Riverside County officials on why they didn’t submit an application. As some of you may remember, the county has spent more than $869,293.15 on implementing its regulations on solar permitting — including its $450-er-acres solar fee passed in November of 2011.
All of the funds spent to date have come from a $600,000 per year solar franchise fee it is receiving from the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project now under construction on public land in the eastern county.
At least some of that money was supposed to go to the tiny town of Desert Center, located a few miles from Desert Sunlight and very much feeling the impacts of solar development.
Instead, county officials have dedicated the Desert Sunlight money to implementing the solar fee policy and defending it against a law suit two solar industry groups filed against it in February 2012.
Given that, it may be the county just didn’t have any use for the money. Another county missing from the tentative awards list is Kern County, which developed its own solar policies without having to dip into any fees it has raised from solar developers, all of which are earmarked for specific uses in the county.
In the meantime, I will be heading out to the east county on Thursday for a media tour of both Desert Sunlight and the 250-megawatt Genesis solar project, both owned by NextEra Energy and both located on public land in the Riverside East solar zone between Joshua Tree National Park and the city of Blythe.