The uproar over dust coming off utility-scale solar construction sites in Antelope Valley have been eased by an agreement on mitigation measures between developers and Kern County planners.

The meeting and the new mitigation plan were described to the community by Kern County Planning Department Director Lorelei Oviatt and Second District County Supervisor Zack Scrivner at a meeting of the Rosamond Municipal Advisory Council.

“The sites where solar is being built are all different, the dust issues are different, and the solutions are different,” said Scrivner. “But the dust caused by the severe wind event we had over the Memorial Day weekend was not because of the solar. This is the desert. When you have 70 mph winds, you are going to have dust.”

This produced an outburst from an angry citizen who claimed she had been unable to get the attention of the Supervisor’s office or of the Kern County Air Pollution Control Board.

“They have issued violations,” Scrivner said.

“And how many of them have been told to turn a blind eye?” the citizen demanded.

“None,” both Oviatt and Scrivner assured her.

Complaints against the solar projects during a Memorial Day weekend wind event raised concerns of Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) outbreaks in Antelope Valley, which straddles northern Los Angeles and southern Kern Counties and currently has over 1,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar PV under construction. Recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control show an increased incidence of the potentially lethal, desert-specific, fungal respiratory disease in California’s Central Valley, just north of the solar projects.

As a result of the furor and the dust, Los Angeles County temporarily stopped work last spring until mitigations were introduced at the now nearly completed 230-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One being built by First Solar (FSLR) for Exelon (EXC).

After the citizen’s heated statements, Oviatt took command of the meeting. “I’ve lived here for 35 years,” she said. “70 mph winds are not unusual. What has changed is there is a lot less farming and crops to retain the dust.”

Locals say many farmers have stopped working their land in anticipation of selling it to solar developers.

Her office, Oviatt adamantly told the community, is now watching the solar construction sites vigilantly. She looked at the representatives of MidAmerican Energy (MDPWK), SunPower (SPWR) and Recurrent Energy sitting in the back row of the meeting. “Raise your hands if you have received calls with complaints from my office.”

They all raised their hands.

Recurrent Energy is building 55 megawatts at four project sites in Antelope Valley and has a fifth project in early development. SunPower is building the 579-megawatt, MidAmerican-owned Antelope Valley Solar Projects at two sites.

“We want to distinguish between mitigations and fines,” Oviatt said. “This is a temporary construction issue. In the finished projects, they will have done the things their permits require and there will be no dust.”

“Dust and solar do not mix,” Scrivner said. “If it is on the panels, it cuts their production.”

“There was dust because we made a mistake,” Oviatt said. “We have new best practices, and they will comply with them or they will hear from me. And any of them will tell you that they don’t want to hear from me.”

The solar representatives all nodded and smiled.

GTM has requested details of the meeting between the solar companies and County officials, but so far nobody is talking. The new measures Oviatt described included:

  • The use of GPS to level racking without grading.
  • If grading is necessary, it is to be phased and done with the application of biodegradable chemical dust palliatives.
  • Grading for roads must be done with palliatives and the roads must be maintained with palliatives.
  • If ground is cleared, plant roots must be left in place if possible.

“Developers will not be able to masquerade anymore,” Oviatt said. “They must comply with the best practices.”

The dust control measures match the mitigations required of First Solar by Los Angeles County.

 “The proof is in the pudding,” Oviatt said. “Complaints about dust have abated in the last three weeks. Will there be no more dust? I can’t promise that. But we will make sure the developers comply with these new measures.”