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The growing cluster of “renewable energy zone” wires and installations is transforming the landscape of the Western Antelope Valley. This is just the beginning. Neighbors are concerned.[Patric Hedlund Photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
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First Solar, Inc. Project Director Tony Perrino (black shirt) appeared to take the tough guy stance at first on July 7 as he launched a power point to tell residents why they should believe that "we have a safety first culture at First Solar." Residents were skeptical. They’d helped to put out the fire on the company’s land. Construction Manager Gary Baumeister (standing, blue shirt, at right) took a different stance. He talked about jobs.
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Just five days before the fire, Javier Pomposo and others told First Solar, Inc. developers that they needed to consult with Fairmont area residents before starting to build. The company didn’t make that a priority.
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First Solar Development Director Jack Pigott first looked aloof and then slightly ill as he listened to the community's concerns. According to the letter of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) procedures, he had finished community hearings and mitigations agreements with Los Angeles County planners in November 2010. But the neighbors who said they were never notified or consulted said the company had not complied with the spirit of the law. [Patric Hedlund photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
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First Solar, Inc. Project Director Tony Perrino as he began the presentation at the Hamnpton Inn in Lancaster raised the hackles of the people who had driven 20-40 miles to hear what the company had to say about the fire. By the end of the meeting, there was an invitation to First Solar personnel to come to a barbecue at the ranch of the president of the Oso Town Council. Construction Manager Gary Baumeister accepted. To be continued next week [Patric Hedlund Photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
By Patric Hedlund
Update -Frazier Park and Neenach,Fairmont, Antelope Acres (Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 4 p.m.)—Richard Skaggs of the Oso Town Council writes: We have a location for the First Solar Lancaster Job Fair – it’s George Lane Park in Quartz Hill at the corner of W. Ave. L8 and 55th St. W on July 30th.
We don’t have a time yet, but Alex Martin of First Solar will provide that as soon as it is final. In the past, the time mentioned was 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. We wil post the confirmed information as soon as it is availalble.
Update -Frazier Park and Neenach,Fairmont, Antelope Acres (Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 12:10 a.m.)—A meeting of the Fairmont Town Council is being held tonight (Thursday) at WeeVill Market on Highway 138 at 6:30 p.m. An opportunity to submit resumes there is scheduled. [Watch Community FYI (at the right side of this page) for agendas as they are available.] The jobs offered are primarily construction jobs. "You don’t need specialized skills, just a good work ethic," said Construction Manager Gary Baumeister, "we’ll provide training."
Also on the Fairmont Town Council agenda is a proposal by Richards Skaggs of the overlapping Oso Town Council (which has represented the Neenach and Fairmont areas on an ad hoc basis since1992) to consolidate the rural town councils to achieve a unified voice in negotiations with energy companies. Another agenda item is the possibility of filing an injunction to stop construction of the First Solar facility until community issues have been settled.
Following a meeting at Antelope Acres last night, First Solar, Inc. community relations coordinator Alejandro ‘Alex’ Martin said there is discussion of a Saturday, July 30 job fair in the Lancaster area, but that the details have not yet been set.. A city park facility has been discussed, as have several hotel sites, including the Lancaster Hilton. We will post the information here as soon as it is available.
Update -Frazier Park and Neenach (Monday, July 18, 2011 at 7:40 p.m.)—Western Antelope Valley Town Councils are coming together to hold quick job fairs on Wednesday, July 20 in Antelope Acres at 5:30 p.m. and on Thursday, July 21 at WeeVill Market at 5:30 p.m. Both are intended to provide First Solar, Inc. Construction Manager Gary Baumeister with applicants for the solar farm project seeking to begin construction this month.
250-350 Jobs Developing
In public meetings, in press releases and in filings for federal subsidies, Solar One executives have said they anticipate that between 250 to 350 people may be employed to build out the 2,000 acre, 230 megawatt (MW) solar power generating facility.
"I"m building a parking lot for 400 cars," Baumeister said.
Because First Solar, Inc. is rushing into constructino to obtain federal and state incentives, which may include $4.5 Billion in federal loan guarantees (for three projects, including this one in Antelope Valley), they are required to pay "prevailing wage," which executives have said may range between $25 to $40 per hour, depending upon the type of work required.
Additional information will be available in the print edition of The Mountain Enterprise, available on newsstands on Thursday morning, July 21.
Update -Lancaster (Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 7:40 p.m. Note: readers of this story will want to ‘refresh’ their browsers as there have been numerous text edits to this update )— In what some participants called an ‘historic meeting’ July 14, executives of First Solar, Inc. met at Fire Station 129 in Palmdale with members of the Oso and Fairmont Rural Town Councils in an unprecedented summit meeting to work out differences.
L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s Field Deputy Norm Hickling moderated. This was 7 days after the previous meeting (at Lancaster’s Hampton Inn) about the July 2 fire on First Solar’s land. Then on July 10 a convivial barbecue with First Solar’s construction manager Gary Baumeister was hosted by Oso Town Council members at whimsical ‘Hiker Town.’ About 30 neighbors from Neenach and Fairmont areas attended.
At the meeting on July 14, First Solar’s attorney came in from San Francisco to sit on one side of the table with Vice President of State and Local Government Affairs Jim Woodruff, Construction Manager Gary Baumeister, Project Manager Tony Perrino and Permits Specialist Roy Skinner. On the other side of the table were Oso Town Council members Gerard Conroy, Richard Skaggs and Robert Plumlee, along with Fairmont Town Council members Barbara Rogers and David Jefferies. Antelope Valley tree farmer Pat Chiodo sat at the table with the Fairmont members. Norm Hickling kept the meeting moving forward. Community members and two journalists were also present. Oso Town Council said they wished to have transparent proceedings.
A businesslike tone characterized most of the dialogue, which covered a list of concerns raised by the residents of the Western Antelope Valley with an impressive spirit of agreement and accommodation. Residents have been told L.A. County may grant permits to 33 utility-scale solar and wind-farms in their area which has been, until recently, wide open landscapes and unobstructed skies.
The cumulative impacts threaten to completely transform the valley. Residents fear, with reason, that the installations will chop their surroundings into an industrial grid crosshatched by 8 foot penitentiary-style chain-link and barbed wire fencing. They are concerned about obstruction of wildlife movement and aesthetic concers for their children. They are concerned about trails and jobs.
They are also concerned about infrastructure maintenance and the planned deeding of the 480 acre Fairmont Buttes environmental mitigation land over to an entity that plans to pass the deed to the Santa Monica Conservancy.
"They don’t live here, we do," thundered Chiodo. Jefferies told of a rave concert that was underway in the Buttes recently until neighbors took action. Residents objected to a chain-link fence they said was going in around the Buttes as well. Council members said there is local conservancy expertise with a good track record that is qualified to manage the mitigation land. Some challenged the competence of the Santa Monica Conservancy for preserving their Western Antelope Valley landmarks and said the transfer of the deed to the Buttes out of local hands is legally flawed.
Town council speakers emphasized that the precedents set by First Solar’s AVRanch1 will determine the standards that will be demanded from the projects that follow them. This is the first project to begin building, and it is possibly the largest. See next week’s print edition of The Mountain Enterprise for a full account of what was discussed at the meeting and how residents of the region say it will affect their future.
From Fire to ‘Hire’ in Fairmont —Part One
There was table thumping and raised voices as Fairmont residents met with executives from First Solar, Inc. in Lancaster at the Hampton Inn on July 7. The group had gathered to review how a fire had been started on First Solar land by a surveyor just a week before construction was to begin on what some call the largest utility-scale solar project in North America. Accusations were flying.
But by Sunday, July 10 many of the same group were shaking hands over barbecue and job applications in a garage transformed into a hikers’ lounge at Hiker Town, a hostel of whimsical 10 by 10 foot rooms along the Western Antelope Valley leg of the Pacific Crest Trail. Between the meetings at the Hampton Inn and the barbecue at the modest Hiker Town, there lies a tale of adversaries working to find common ground.
On June 27 the Fairmont Town Council sent a stronglyworded letter to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission asking for an emergency meeting before First Solar began construction on their AV Solar Ranch One project in the the Fairmont/Neenach neighborhood. Residents said the developer and county planners had not adequately consulted with the project’s closest neighbors. They expressed urgent concerns about economic, aesthetic and safety impacts of the 2,100 acre solar farm project. They were angry that First Solar had waited so long to meet with them.
Development Director Jack Pigott looked first aloof and then vaguely ill as he listened to the complaints of the property owners adjacent to his project.
Then, on July 2 a fire broke out on Pigott’s project land.
Residents responded immediately, taking tractors to the fields to make firebreaks. L.A. County Fire Station 78 responded, about 45 minutes after the fire started, residents say. On July 5 Fairmont called for an emergency community meeting at the Weevill Market set for July 7 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the fire. Then First Solar called their own community meeting to be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Hampton in Lancaster for the same day, 25 miles away.
About 38 residents drove to Lancaster to the earlier meeting. They were greeted by a power point presentation by Project Manager Tony Perrino, telling about the “culture of safety” at First Solar.
Perrino said, “We were in a preconstruction mode when this happened, so that is why we didn’t have the safety plan already in place.” He said a surveyor’s truck had ignited the dry grass. Residents angrily said that if the company had met with them in advance and hired a local surveyor, “instead of someone from Long Beach,” they would have known that all trucks working in this area need shields under them, to avoid sparking of the kind that caused the fire.
They said they wanted to review the company’s safety plan and to see their community knowledge of the dangers of the area made part of the operational procedures for construction.
Next Week: Why Are All These People Smiling?
This is part of the July 15, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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