San Bernardino officials eye fate of solar project near Barstow

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The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is set to decide Tuesday on the fate of a large solar power farm near Barstow. The facility could produce enough energy to power hundreds of homes and businesses. But some people say it could also spoil their way of life.

Newberry Springs is a sleepy desert outpost known for its rich agricultural past and its abundance of sun, sand and wind.

It’s also close to existing power lines operated by Southern California Edison. That makes it attractive to a lot of renewable energy generators. One is a mom and pop outfit from San Diego County called Solutions for Utilities. It wants to install a 27-acre solar farm — not very big if it’s deep in the desert, like most solar projects. But this one would share space with a Newberry Springs neighborhood.

“All the area around here is zoned is intended to be rural residential living, and other compatible uses. It’s not meant to be industrial,” said James Dole.

Doles lives in one of a handful of homes that sit across the road from the proposed site. Doles calls himself a “pro-solar guy” but he says this project is a bad idea. He says the hundreds of solar panels would create a blinding glare. They’d suck up too much water to keep clean. And when Solutions for Utilities clears the property, high winds will whip up the soil.

“It consists of sandy loam and Cajon sand, which is transported by wind gusts as low as 12 miles an hour,” Doles said.

San Bernardino County supervisors could require Solutions for Utilities to make upgrades that may stall the project. The company's owners worry that they'll lose out on federal tax credits if they don't break ground soon. The San Bernardino County Land Use Department is recommending approval. Neighbors, led by James Doles, say they could sue to block the project.