L.A. County and First Solar on Brink of Announcement for AVSR1 to Resume Construction

NEENACH / FAIRMONT / LANCASTER / WESTERN ANTELOPE VALLEY / FRAZIER PARK, CA (June 21, 2012 at 2 p.m.)—Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works and negotiators from First Solar, Inc. are about ready to make an announcement this afternoon or tomorrow morning about an accord that has been to allow workers to resume construction of the  230 megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1) facility. More information will be posted shortly.

"We are hoping to have an end of discussions, perhaps as early as today, and to issue a statement," said L.A. County Public Relations Supervisor Bob Spencer. "…It would ba a case of the county approving the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) or approving an amended CUP," he said. "As soon as that is done and the buidling inspector stamps the documents, First Solar is free to go. I think what the two groups are very close to doing is reaching an amicable agreement," Spencer summarized.

According to Gerard Conroy, a former Los Angeles city public works inspector who now lives near the AVSR1 site and serves on the Oso Rural Town Council in the western Antelope Valley, "This is the first solar utility plant built in L.A. County. The inspectors ran into some things they hadn’t run into before." He was referring to First Solar’s allegation that this is the first project that has been challenged in California, other parts of the U.S. and worldwide, because their solar panels are not certified by Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) "seal of approval."

"We are a utility scale facility being built behind fences, operated by trained personnel," protested James Woodruff earlier this month, "these are not panels for people to install on the roofs of their houses." First Solar contends that meeting L.A. County inspectors’ demand for UL underwriting is inappropriate in the AVSR1 setting.

Meanwhile, up to 385 jobs have been furloughed at the primary site and a secondary site known as Alpine Solar/ NRG which First Solar is constructing with the same panels, within a few miles from AVSR1. Layoffs occured at both sites while "rooms full of lawyers and engineers are fighting it out," Woodruff said.

"We need to be confident by the materials they have provided us that the project is sound, and that their standards meet or exceed our requirements," Spencer said, adding that "I’m reading emails as you are talking to me. It is imminent. [The announcement] will come later today or tomorrow morning. We now know the discussions are reaching an end."

This is part of the June 22, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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