Bakersfield · Business

Tax breaks, oil standoff opens rift between Kern lawmakers, Newsom over massive solar projects

Has Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambitious green energy push finally been met a modicum of resistance?

That seems to be the case after Kern County Supervisors brought a set of massive solar projects in the southeastern portion of the county to a crawl on Tuesday.

Six photovoltaic projects are becoming collateral damage as Kern County Supervisors direct their heat at state lawmakers.

The six sets of solar array, collectively known as Raceway 2.0, are proposed to be built on 1,330 acres of land just south of Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond.

The projects would generate approximately 291 megawatts of electricity, builder AES Corporation claims.

The change in tune from Kern County officials arrives less than a month after California’s Geologic Energy Management division (CalGEM) denied 21 energy extraction permits for Kern County energy producer, Aera Energy.

CalGEM has emerged as the tip of the spear in Newsom’s push to end California oil production by 2045.

But the denial is just one portion of the issue. The other is property taxes.

California currently offers a property tax exclusion to property owners that install active solar energy systems on their property.

The exclusion, which is currently set to expire in 2025, temporarily bars Kern County from including the solar system improvements as part of a reassessment.

It’s worth noting, however, that the property tax exclusion was extended by legislators in 2014 – from Jan. 1, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2025 – and can be extended again.

In a letter to Kern County Supervisors, Sen. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield) called on local lawmakers to issue a moratorium on new, large-scale solar projects.

She added that Kern County, long the energy hub of the Golden State through its oil production, has continued that role in renewables.

“Kern County has been key in helping the state meet its energy goals by producing more than 50% of California’s renewable energy,” Grove wrote. “Highly urbanized areas of the state proclaim their success in meeting the Governor’s ever changing renewable energy goals, but what they fail to mention is that their ability to appease the Governor is contingent upon a continuous supply of clean renewable energy produced in Kern County.”

She added that Kern County is put at a competitive disadvantage by producing cheap energy for major metropolitan hubs while sacrificing $100 million in property tax revenues over the last decade.

“Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco greatly benefit from the ample energy produced in Kern County, including lower energy rates. However, Kern County loses out on tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue due to the overused Solar Tax Exclusion.”

Grove estimated that continued unabated solar development with the property tax exclusion would cost Kern County more than $40 million in revenue.

The moratorium idea never surfaced on Tuesday, but the litany of energy-related issues certainly left Supervisors with pause.

“When the governor comes out and just arbitrarily denies 21 permits for local businesses with no science and no reasoning behind it, that really forces the board to say, ‘OK we have to do something to protect our residents and local businesses,’” board Chairman Phillip Peters told The Bakersfield Californian.

Raceway 2.0 is scheduled to return before the board on Aug. 24.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.