Construction has been halted at First Solar's 230-megawatt Antelope Valley solar power plant due to air standards issues.

After multiple delays in construction throughout 2012 due to violations of the project’s conditional use permit (CUP), Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1) started delivering electricity to the Southern California Edison grid at the end of the year and now has 150 megawatts of its planned 230-megawatt nameplate capacity on-line.

The current interruption of construction is due to the failure of First Solar to bring the facility into compliance with the Federal Ambient Air Standard, according to Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District Operations Manager Bret Banks.

An initial notice of violations (NOV) was issued to First Solar for violations observed April 5, Banks said, and First Solar was advised that close observation would continue, due to increasing seasonal winds and ongoing complaints by residents in the vicinity about dust from the AVSR1 site.

A dust storm in Antelope Valley April 8 was so severe it led to five- and ten-car pileups in the sparsely populated region, as well as closure of the Antelope Valley Freeway. 

Three more violations were issued April 18 for observations made on April 5 of “a myriad of things [First Solar] could have done that we didn’t think they were doing to prevent the violations,” Banks said, adding that his understanding was that First Solar could not proceed with construction until the violations had been resolved.

Dust, in general, has led to  complaints of respiratory distress by residents and a concern about soil-borne Valley Fever, as well as increased reports of Dry Land Distemper in horses. 

Norm Hickling, Deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said, “We told them it is time to stop experimenting. We need best practice standards.” 

“As with any large construction project, issues will arise, and sometimes these issues will result in a notice of correction,” First Solar spokesperson Alex Martin emailed to GTM. “First Solar quickly works to correct the issue in collaboration with LA County officials. The project remains on schedule for completion by the end of the year.”

“I am in too much pain to be polite,” said resident Karl Humphreys, who stood with his arm in a sling at the recent Fairmont Town Council meeting. Humphreys’ wrist was broken in a car accident during the April 8 dust storms. “We warned them not to grade and told them it was going to happen, and they ignored us,” Humphreys told the Town Council. “Now we live in Hell Valley.”

This is not the first time First Solar’s site management practices at AVSR1 have forced action by the County. Work was brought to a halt for months last spring when the County found grading practices and electrical work that failed to meet the standards set forth in the facility’s permit.

NextLight initially acquired the AVSR1 site in the early stages of the rush for Antelope Valley solar project land. It was then acquired by First Solar and ultimately by Exelon, observed Rick Williams, a Project Developer in Antelope Valley for SunEdison (NYSE:WFR) who previously worked with First Solar on projects in the area. “Some sites require more work and some less, in terms of the disturbance of vegetation and topography,” said Williams. “The more vegetation, the more disturbance is necessary to prepare the site for construction and, consequently, more effort is required to manage dust."

Meetings involving the County and First Solar are ongoing. “They have been told it is time to use things to control dust that have worked elsewhere in the valley,” Hickling told the town council. “Fines are not issued unless [the company] fails to correct the problem. They have to demonstrate they have dealt with the dust, re-vegetation and landscaping issues as outlined in the CUP.”

Tags: air standards, antelope valley, antelope valley air quality management district, antelope valley solar ranch one, av aqmd, avsr1, county of los angeles, exelon, first solar, nextlight, re-vegetation, southern california edison, sunedison, valley fever