Last year Riverside County, Calif., choose to impose fees on large-scale solar projects of $450 per acre annually. The county chose impose the fees in an attempt to make up for money the county said it was losing from state incentives that eliminated property taxes and other revenue on such projects. A year later and $1.2 million in fees collected from the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm—for one—it was found that the fees, which were to benefit the regions where where the projects were being built, haven’t been used for that purpose. Now the county agreed to make sure at least some of such funds will benefit the local economies as promised.
That’s in contrast to promises by County Supervisor John Benoit (R). When he led the charge to impose the fee he said he wanted to ensure that any fees collected benefitted people locally.
Since first proposing the fee, it’s been controversial. Large-scale solar developers contend that the such fees make developing in counties like Riverside less desirable even though they’re the ideal location for solar projects like the Desert Sunlight, Blythe and Ivanpah solar projects.
They’ve said they could pay fees as high as $140 per acre annually but the $450 per acre fee was too high. As such they sued. And most of the money collected so far, $618,749 of it was spent or allocated for legal services such as fighting the suit brought by solar developers, according to The Desert Sun, which reported on the issue Dec. 1. “Another $123,755 paid for salaries and reimbursements for county staff working on the solar fee program, while $437,183 is vaguely described as ‘contributions to other funds,’” the newspaper reported.
Since the newspaper reported on the spending the County’s Board of Supervisors has gotten together to address the issue. Last Tuesday it unanimously approved a policy that could channel some of the fees collected to local economic and job development activities, but the newly approved policy still fails to guarantee that any of the money will go to towns such as Desert Center and Blythe, which are close to the large-scale projects planned or under construction in the area, according to the newspaper.