Do you know where your green energy comes from? Would you proudly support California’s energy policies if you knew they contributed to the oppression of some of the poorest communities in the state? The state’s unwillingness to end the Solar Tax Exclusion widens the gap between the state’s affluent and disadvantaged communities. The Solar Tax Exclusion provides millions of dollars in tax breaks for large-scale commercial solar projects that provide power to Southern California and the Silicon Valley for dirt cheap.
Kern County produces the majority of California’s renewable energy; however, our community can no longer sacrifice more than 36,000 acres of land and residents’ quality of life services so places like Pasadena, Riverside, Santa Monica and San Francisco can enjoy discounted green electrons. The state must end the Solar Tax Exclusion, which usurps local taxing authority and fails to reimburse counties that host large-scale renewable energy projects. Considering Kern’s significant contribution to the state’s renewable energy goals, ending the Solar Tax Exclusion is truly the right thing to do.
California’s wind industry began in Kern County in the 1980s, long before phrases like “global warming” and “climate change” became commonplace. For more than 40 years, Kern has led the way for green energy as an essential contributor to the successful implementation of the state’s aggressive renewable energy goals and climate change policies. Our focused permitting of large-scale wind, solar and energy storage, with full Environmental Impact Reports and expedited permitting processes, have been no less than an asset to California.
The green energy we generate powers cities, homes and business through the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Public Power Authority and Northern California utilities, among others. Why do the governor and state Legislature expect us to provide clean energy to most of the state and accept hardly anything in return?
Renewable energy projects would be more welcome in Kern if they paid their fair share of property taxes. Taxes that all other businesses in California are expected to pay each year. Due to the Solar Tax Exclusion, our existing 36 large-scale commercial solar facilities pay a combined $1.5 million annually to Kern County’s General Fund. That is a stark contrast to the roughly $20 million in annual revenue we would have received if the Solar Tax Exclusion had not been extended.
Although the Solar Tax Exclusion is set to expire at the end of 2024, we have no indication from the governor or the Legislature that anything other than another extension should be expected. That extension would keep green energy costs for metropolitan areas low while doing so at the expense of poorer and more rural communities, like Kern County. We’ve decided, therefore, not to continue this unbalanced partnership on renewable energy development. We are implementing a local solution on our CEQA documents that will increase the cost of these projects and may even force them out of Kern. That would be unfortunate, but Kern is no longer willing to sacrifice so the rest of California can have cheaper green electrons. We’re also continually under attack from numerous sectors to abandon our oil and gas industry which provides $80 million a year in revenue to Kern County’s General Fund in juxtaposition to the solar industry’s meager $1.5 million. The same proponents who scoff at and seek to end Kern’s oil and gas industry eagerly reach into our pockets to enjoy the benefits of the green energy produced here.
The state also missed the local government land use connection, by implementing a recent 50 percent cut in sales tax on solar equipment. It is a great idea for rooftop residential solar, but the tax break has once again been unfairly applied to large-scale commercial projects and has diminished yet another fiscal benefit to our local government. This sales tax cut in conjunction with the Solar Tax Exclusion and pressure to ban our oil and gas industry have culminated in our interest to find a meaningful solution to the revenue imbalance caused by these policies. The state’s willingness to continue to take from the poor to provide for the rich is irresponsible, inequitable, and unconscionable.
On behalf of the entire Kern County Board of Supervisors and nearly 1 million Californians living in Kern County, the board publicly urges Newsom to uphold his vision of “California for all” and lead the effort with the state Legislature to end the inequitable Solar Tax Exclusion and other one-sided energy policies.
Phillip Peters serves as the chairman of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, which is the governing body of Kern County. The board consists of five members including Supervisor Zack Scrivner, Supervisor Mike Maggard, Supervisor David Couch and Supervisor Leticia Perez.