AquaHelio files for smaller Freemont Valley project

By JAMES SIMMONS, News Review Correspondent

AquaHelio Resources, LLC, the developer proponent of what it initially called the “Fremont Valley Preservation Project,” has returned to the Kern County Planning Department with a new, smaller proposal.

First disclosed by Advance Planning/Community Development Division Chief Craig Murphy at the county’s recent groundwater “workday” in Ridgecrest, the new proposal has eliminated the water extraction element.

In a telephone conversation last Friday, County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt made it plain and simple. “I informed the applicant that I could not support a plan to remove any native groundwater from that aquifer.” The draft environmental impact report for the original project outlined possible pumping of over 35 billion gallons per year of groundwater from under the Cantil region.

By removing that element, the new plan avoids the cost, controversy and contention that accompanied the initial proposal. But for now the water banking and solar farm elements remain, subject to at least two apparent caveats.

“The applicant does not have in place a power purchase agreement” with a buyer for the energy to be produced by the solar farm, said Oviatt. The original proposal, which may now differ, was estimated to generate 1,008 megawatts of solar energy. The project would include up to 75 miles of 230 kV or 345 kV transmission lines.

Like many of the dozens of solar energy projects being ushered through the permitting process across the southwestern deserts, the federal tax credits supporting these industrial-scale facilities are scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.

Having received the new application from AquaHelio, the county awaits hearing from the company again. There remains much to do in order to process the application, recirculate a revised EIR, and provide for public comment. So far, there is no more word from the applicant. “The ball is in their court,” said Oviatt.

Story First Published: 2014-06-11