In a big step forward for solar development in Riverside County, the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement to cut per-acre fees for projects on county property from $450 to $150.
The 4-to-1 vote ended a long process of litigation over the developer fees. The fee on projects of 20 megawatts or more was instituted in November 2011, and the Independent Energy Producers Association and the Large-Scale Solar Association filed suit in February 2012. They argued that policy B-29, as it was called, amounted to a "sun tax" that violated the "Stop Hidden Taxes" initiative, Proposition 26, as well as the statewide Mitigation Fee Act. They stated that because they believed the fee was a tax, it needed to get voter approval.
As part of the agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors, the county will get rid of certain developer incentives. There will also be a 2 percent increase in fees each year for as long as a solar project operates on county property. Solar developers involved in the suit pledged to ensure the county gets its full share of taxes as part of the settlement.
Of the estimated 300,000 acres in California with potential for solar development, roughly two-thirds of them are in Riverside County. When the fee was enacted, there were more than 20 projects in the works there. Currently, two projects are under construction in the county: the 250-megawatt Genesis project by Next¬Era Energy's and the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project, a group effort from NextEra, GE Energy Financial Services and Sumitomo Corp. of America.
"This required many months of hard work and tough negotiations," Board of Supervisors Chairman John Benoit said according to news reports. "It's a step in a very positive direction. Not everybody may be happy, but at least everybody is in agreement."
"We appreciate the board's attention to this matter," said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association, in a statement. "The settlement is fair to the county, fair to our members and will allow them to move forward."