The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a large-scale solar project on Tuesday, indicating a continued commitment to the industry despite concerns a tax exclusion limits the financial benefit to the county.
The Raceway 2.0 Solar Project was initially scheduled for a vote in July, but supervisors delayed approval to further examine the project’s environmental and fiscal impacts.
Developed over six years, Raceway 2.0 would provide 271 megawatts of renewable energy and up to 100 megawatt hours of energy storage on 1,250 acres of land near Rosamond. The project was redesigned in 2018 after residents complained solar panels would be placed too close to houses.
It lately came under scrutiny as Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to reduce oil production in California, and a tax exclusion prevents the county from collecting most property taxes on land with solar power. The county has estimated the tax exclusion bars $19.9 million per year from entering local coffers. Meanwhile, Kern officials say the oil industry provides $80 million in taxes, which is at risk of evaporating if oil production diminishes.
State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, has urged supervisors to institute a moratorium on all new solar projects in response to the state's denial of fracking permit applications.
“This has been a difficult one to consider,” Supervisor Zack Scrivner said during the meeting. “Newsom’s decisions are always purely political. They don’t weigh science and data when it comes to oil, but this board doesn’t do that. When we look at a project, we are weighing the facts and we are trying to make a good sound policy decision.”
Ultimately, a new calculation of taxes that would be earned from the project as well as consideration of the local construction and electrical jobs that would be supported, tilted the board in the project’s favor. Battery storage planned for the project is not subject to the tax exclusion, increasing the financial benefit to the county.
The county estimated Raceway Solar would provide $637,000 annually in property taxes in addition to $1.5 million in one-time sales tax and a $817,780 impact charge.
The county’s delay of the project also appears to have prompted solar energy leaders to send a letter to Newsom saying they are not seeking an extension of the tax exclusion when it sunsets in 2024. Instead, they said in the letter they will only seek a partial exclusion.
Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the project, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.
Still, some residents of Rosamond spoke out in opposition to Raceway Solar, saying the project would limit the growth of the town and eliminate the serene desert environment many of them moved to the area to experience.
“All the wonderful habitat that we moved out of the city to enjoy will be gone,” said a Rosamond resident who identified herself as JoEllen Alexander.
Local labor unions heavily supported the project, telling supervisors on Tuesday it would bring many jobs to the area.
AES Corporation, which is behind Raceway Solar, expects the project will generate 200 construction jobs. Construction is scheduled to begin in January.