The latest construction progress reports that Marin Energy Authority released about its 15 megawatt Rio Solar photovoltaic farm in Bakersfield conflict with what Kern County oversight agencies report. MEA’s prior attempt in Placer County had the same pattern.
It’s critical to examine Rio Solar because MEA’s own data shows it represents about 50 percent of MEA’s solar energy target over the next four years.
MEA’s June 30 quarterly progress report for Rio Solar says "work onsite is proceeding underway [sic] by affiliates under existing and other previously issued permits, for which the work overlaps."
According to MEA, Rio Solar is supposed to be located adjacent to the fossil plant Rio Jasmin, with which it will share an existing electric grid intertie. Contrary to MEA’s progress report, Kern County Planning Department says it has not received any development plans, and Kern County Building Department says a “search on identified parcels shows no active permit activity” at the Jasmin site or at surrounding parcels (see attached Kern County parcel map).
MEA Progress Report
“…work is under way with substantial completion by December 2012”
“…no permit activity, or receipt of plans for construction at the Rio Jasmin site or at surrounding parcels.”
A year ago MEA announced that Rocklin, in Placer County, was Rio Solar’s home. However, Placer County officials said they never received any construction plans or requests for environmental review. After months of no activity, MEA’s developer abruptly pulled up stakes on June 1 and declared Bakersfield would be the future home of the 120 acre solar farm.
MEA Chair, Damon Connolly
MEA’s Rio Solar Developer
“…no negative developments”... at the Placer County location.”
"…never received any construction plans or requests for environmental review."
pulled up stakes June 1 [from Placer County] and declared Bakersfield would be the future home of the 120 acre solar farm.
The June 1 surprise announcement came only a week after MEA’s Board Chair, Damon Connolly, proclaimed that there were no construction delays at the Placer County location. Connolly further defended MEA’s lax project management, writing that the developer had not submitted any construction progress reports to MEA because the solar farm was still in the “pre-development stage.” Of note, MEA’s contract specified that construction was to commence four months earlier, Feb. 1, 2012.
MEA’s Sept. 30 progress report says its developer “has the right to [bypass CEQA and] install up to its current onsite power needs.” Kern County allows solar farms to bypass California’s time-consuming Environmental Quality Act when the energy will be used on-site (i.e. when it’s not sold into the electric grid as it would be when Rio Solar goes into commercial operation and produces energy on behalf of MEA). However, MEA’s contract Article 3.1 says all energy produced at the 15 megawatt solar facility shall be purchased by Marin Energy Authority.
It’s curious that a green power company is reporting on a right to possibly use a loophole to bypass California environmental regulations. It’s especially curious considering MEA’s own contract says otherwise. What would MEA report to the State PUC if this were PG&E?
MEA’s latest Integrated Resource Plan states the Rio Solar plant will still meet its original completion date of March 2013. Even after all permits and approvals are in place, construction for a project of this scale takes six months to a year. The San Rafael Airport solar project took 5 months, and it was 1/20th the scale and required none of the site preparation that Bakersfield requires.
It is hard to sort out whether MEA executives and consultants are just completely inexperienced and naïve about their business, or willfully misleading their public and ratepayers about progress bringing their promised premium green power on-line. MEA started to collect penalty payments from the developer for failing to meet a revised “Guaranteed Construction Start Date”; however, MEA resists divulging its newly revised Guaranteed Construction Start Date, which was supposedly modified when Rio Solar relocated to Bakersfield.
Given Rio Solar’s March 2013 completion date is just three months away, either MEA pulls a green rabbit out of its hat and completes it on time, or they explain candidly what happened and why. Otherwise, MEA continues its troubling pattern of public reporting that’s at odds with the facts. We’ll know in March.