An unidentified vandal attacked the still-embattled, under-construction 230-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1) photovoltaic solar power plant during the night of July 9-10. Damage was estimated at $100,000, according to First Solar’s AVSR1 Project Manager Tony Perrino. First Solar has informed GTM it will be posting a $25,000 reward, payable to the first person to provide material information that leads directly to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the vandalism.
A transmission line and a water pipe, both approximately 2.5 miles from the solar project site, were cut by a Sawzall. A report was filed with the local Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The vandalism was publicly announced July 17 at the monthly meeting between First Solar and the local communities facilitated by LA County Deputy Supervisor Norm Hickling. It's a new disruption to the uneasy peace that has followed the settlement of differences between First Solar and Los Angeles County that had previously stopped construction for two months.
The facility has had 24-hour security since the controversial project was robbed over the last New Year’s Eve holiday weekend, Perrino said. The company will now add a roving guard for the nights.
“When you have dissatisfied people in the community, this sort of thing happens,” a local town council officer said at the meeting.
“At least one dissatisfied person,” several First Solar officials snapped back.
The transmission line was a cable approximately one inch in diameter that was part of AVSR1’s connection to the Southern California Edison (SCE) Whirlwind substation. Because of the line’s many entwined copper wires, it cannot be spliced, Perrino said. The 300-foot strand must be replaced.
Because the project is not yet on-line, the repair has not yet been made. Perrino estimated the replacement cost to be approximately $100,000.
The same night, an HDPE water pipe approximately four inches in diameter was slit, spilling the supplemental water in excess of its Los Angeles County allotment being delivered to AVSR1 from a private water reserve in Kern County. The pipe was repaired July 10 at little cost.
Perrino did not know the cost of the lost water, but water is not cheap in the Mojave Desert and water was likely flowing out of the pipe for much of the night and morning.
Vandalism in the region against renewable energy projects isn't new. In the summer of 2011, wind projects saw eight acts of vandalism amounting to more than a half million dollars in damage. In those cases, guy wires were cut, felling and destroying meteorological towers. The perpetrators were not caught.
Tuesday's meeting had a much smaller turnout than previous ones but those present were diehard, upset local residents, frustrated that the company still has not seemed to hear what they want from the project.
The discussion was permeated with barely concealed hostility on both the company and community sides. Locals who described themselves as representatives of “disgruntled neighbors” complained about First Solar’s plans for landscaping.
“Morally, how can you do that, destroy peoples’ homes?” one resident demanded. “When you go down 138, it's out-and-out ugly,” she added.
A Town Council officer noted that the County had allowed SCE to erode the empty landscape with a huge array of transmission lines across the Antelope Valley floor long before First Solar began building AVSR1. “It’s the county, not these guys,” he said. “They’re end-users. They’re renters.”
A resident raised fears about fires and toxicity from the 3.8 million cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film panels now being installed. First Solar brought an authority on the subject of CdTe to a meeting some months ago to answer such concerns.
Residents rejected First Solar officers’ assurance that fire “will never happen” because they remember a fire that did happen at the site just before construction began. It was a field fire caused by a biologist. There were no panels involved.
In the wake of First Solar’s presence, there has been turmoil between leaders in Oso, Fairmont and Antelope Acres, three local townships. First Solar seems to have been caught between them from the time it bought the project from NextLight.
One town council officer stands accused of an ethical conflict of interest and being unduly influenced because before he was elected, he allegedly signed a non-disclosure agreement and allegedly took a stipend from First Solar for advising them regarding landscaping and contracting to supply trees.
Another town council officer complained that he was not paid for a pollution control product he supplied to First Solar to test because he refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement.
First Solar agreements generally contain confidentiality or non-disclosure stipulations to protect the company from being used as a product endorser, First Solar VP Jim Woodruff said. He offered to return the pollution control product and noted that If the company never did business with prominent local business people who were or might become Town Council officers, it might not be able to find local vendors at all.
Another nuisance lies ahead for the still financially burdened First Solar as it works to fulfill its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) responsibilities to Exelon Corporation, which took ownership of the project a few months ago.
After the meeting, a former AVSR1 employee showed GTM a copy of a class-action lawsuit filing, registered in the LA Superior Court July 13, against CLP Resources, the employment agency used by First Solar to obtain local hires.
The complaints listed were: (1) Failure to pay minimum wage or overtime; (2) failure to provide accurate itemized wage statistics; (3) failure to maintain accurate payroll records; (4) failure to provide proper rest breaks; (5) failure to provide proper meal breaks; (6) failure to provide customary wages; and (7) failure to reimburse expenses.
The former employee said the suit represented a dozen workers, and more are expected to join.