Major solar project seeks access through Edwards Air Force Base

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Solar panel array at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)


John Cox

The Bakersfield Californian

Construction could begin soon near Rosamond on a 2,317-acre photovoltaic solar farm whose Southern California-based developer is seeking permission to run a 6.5-mile electrical transmission line through part of Edwards Air Force Base.

After receiving project approval in October from the Kern County Board of Supervisors, developer 8minute Solar Energy is now waiting for the military to complete an environmental review process that has identified at least some potential impacts on air quality, cultural resources and local soils. The base has determined the transmission line wouldn’t affect its mission development or execution.

Expected to begin operation in 2023, the Aratina Solar Center would produce up to 530 megawatts of electricity — more than twice the amount outlined by the company as recently as mid-2020, when 8minute said it would sell the power for use in the Monterey Bay and Silicon Valley areas. The project is to include a large battery facility for storing energy on the site.

The company is among the county’s largest developers of solar power. Aratina is 8minute’s ninth project in Kern since about 2014. It has developed projects delivering 1,700 megawatts statewide, including the 450-megawatt Springbok Solar Cluster in the California City area and the 100-megawatt Redwood Solar Cluster near Bakersfield.

During the county’s review of the project, plans for Aratina were altered to minimize the impact on neighbors’ views of the area and increase the amount of open space between the solar array and the nearest residents.

An updated posted on the Aratina’s public information page, www.aratinasolar.com, says the company recently undertook a geotechnical analysis and topographical survey intended to better understand the site’s underlying soil and rule out potential limitations, such as existing infrastructure.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 416th Fight Test Squadron taxis after returning a from a test support mission at Edwards Air Force Base, California, April 1. (Air Force photo by Kyle Brasier)

A company spokeswoman was unavailable for comment Monday, as was a senior county official who oversees Kern’s reviews of large energy projects. Meanwhile, a representative of an Irvine engineering company that worked on the military review was unable to provide a response Monday.

The proposed transmission line at issue in the Edwards review is expected to connect the generation site, located on private property north of the base, to Southern California Edison’s existing Kramer Substation.

The military’s draft review can be found online at www.aratinasolar.com/transmission-line-ea. It found “no significant impact” from an easement that would be required to run the transmission line — complete with poles up to 125 feet high and 8 feet in diameter at their base — through the northeastern portion of Edwards.

The draft noted the project would “enhance the system reliability” of the regional power grid, from which Edwards benefits.

Even so, the preliminary document stated the overall project could have other potential impacts. It pointed to dust that would be kicked up during construction and maintenance, as well as potential disturbance of archaeological or cultural resources, possible soil erosion, some deterioration of natural habitat and risks from hazardous waste handling.

8minute estimates Aratina will generate 570 construction jobs and offset 860,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, which it said was the yearly equivalent of planting 14 million trees.

Public comments on the transmission line’s environmental review can be accepted until Feb. 7. They can be emailed to the address 412tw.pae@us.af.mil, or sent by mail to Andrea Brewer-Anderson at 412 CEG/CEVA, 120 N. Rosamond Blvd., Building 3735, Suite A, Edwards AFB, CA 93524-8600.

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