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Response to LA Times: Solar Projects Benefit Counties

As other reporters and bloggers have pointed out, Sunday's Los Angeles Times ran a one-sided and misinformed article questioning the economic benefits of utility-scale solar projects on desert counties.

Let’s be perfectly clear – the counties where utility-scale solar projects are being built are benefitting significantly in direct and economic investments, tax revenues and job creation.  For example, our $2.2 billion Ivanpah project is more than 70% complete and is employing more than 2,000 workers on site today.  At its peak, the project employed more than 2,100 workers, and is estimated to generate $250 million in construction wages and $650 million in total wages over its 30-year life.  More than 80 percent of these workers are from the local union halls in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.  Many of these trade workers were unemployed for years following the economic downturn in 2008.  Today, they are earning good wages to support their families and buying goods in their local communities.  You can meet a couple of these impressive construction workers by viewing this video.

The Ivanpah project is also estimated to generate approximately $300 million in local and state tax revenues over its 30-year life.  The wages and taxes generated at Ivanpah only represent the project’s direct economic benefits.  The indirect benefits to local businesses are estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.  The Ivanpah project also takes pride in supporting the local community by contributing to High Desert universities and philanthropic organizations, supporting job training opportunities, youth organizations, veteran’s services and more.

As a solar developer, we understand that our projects will have impacts on local infrastructure, such as roads and emergency services.  This is why we work closely with local leaders to better understand our impacts, identify ways to minimize them wherever possible and fairly mitigate the county for impacts that cannot be avoided.  We took this approach in San Bernardino County when developing the Ivanpah project and we’re currently engaged in similar discussions in other counties for future projects. 

The LA Times highlights one such project – Hidden Hills Solar in Inyo County – where we are currently working with local leaders.  The story points out that just five percent of the construction jobs at Hidden Hills would be filled by Inyo County residents.  Yet the story ignores the fact that the primary reason that five percent of the construction workers come from Inyo County is because it has a small population.  According to the most recent census, Inyo County has 18,000 residents.  Compare this with the two million residents in San Bernardino County where Ivanpah is being built. 

In fact, according to an independent socioeconomic and fiscal analysis report created for the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff, “Due to extraordinarily high unemployment rates within Inyo County, particularly in the construction trades, it is reasonable to assume that the local labor force will be able to supply all available positions.”  In other words, the project could put all of the county’s unemployed qualified construction workers back to work.  

The story also accepts Inyo County’s claim that the project would cost the county $11-12 million during the 30-month construction phase and an additional $2 million a year in public safety and other services, completely ignoring the independent CEC report.  Again, the independent analysis counters these claims and highlights the significant economic benefits of these projects.

The independent report looks at two scenarios – Inyo County’s analysis and its own third-party analysis.  Scenario 1 applies the county’s analysis of $11-12 million impacts during construction and $1.2 million in annual operations, while Scenario 2 applies the independent report’s analysis of $2.7 million in costs during construction and $390,000 in annual operations.  In both scenarios, the net fiscal impacts are significantly beneficial to the county.  Scenario 1 results in a positive net fiscal impact of $61.1 million and Scenario 2 leads to a positive net fiscal impact of $88.2 million.

The bottom line: these projects are providing tens of millions of dollars in positive fiscal benefits to the counties where they are built.  Whether one uses data provided by the county, a solar company or an independent party, the projects are creating jobs, leading to direct investments, indirect spending and tax revenues for the counties.  To argue otherwise ignores the facts and creates false perceptions regarding one of our nation’s fastest growing industries.  

This article was originally published on BrightSource and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Solar installation via Shutterstock

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