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Castaic Lake Water Agency official says solar power project ‘mothballed’

Posted: November 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

A plan by local water officials to turn 8,600 acres into a cost-saving, moneymaking, energy-producing solar field has been “mothballed,” an agency official said this week.

Members of the Castaic Lake Water Agency met behind closed doors to discuss details of a leasing agreement between the agency and Rolling Hills Farms in Devil’s Den, Kern County.

In keeping with policy, agency officials declined to comment on the “closed session” issue, but Dirk Marks, the agency’s water resources manager, said simply: “The solar field is mothballed.”

In January 2009, the agency looked to Devil’s Den with the hope of turning the Kern County water outpost into a sustainable, solar-powered, moneymaking enterprise.

The agency’s board of directors gave the green project the green light to start turning sunlight into money.

The board sought proposals for a feasibility study to see if the site would be suitable for such a use and if an economically viable project is possible.

Members were spurred on in their efforts because California utilities are required by state law to have 20 percent of their electric supply come from renewable sources by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020.

Using Devil’s Den for solar-power generation could potentially pay the agency’s rent for the land, an agency official said at the time.

It was believed the solar field could also make money for the agency if there’s enough energy generated to sell.

Tough economic times, however, have dried up any prospect of a backer for the project.

A prospective backer would be any agency that responds to the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s call for help in making the project a reality.

That call is referred to as a “request for proposal.”

The agency had one company interested in the project, but that prospect has now vanished, Marks said.

“One vendor responded with (proposed) changes, but then the market changed, and now there’s not that interest from the vender anymore.”

Water agency officials found the Devil’s Den property after they went looking for water in the late ’80s as the multiyear drought dragged on.

Devil’s Den is about 130 miles north of the Santa Clarita Valley, about 70 miles northeast of San Luis Obispo.

Cotton farmers once used Devil’s Den’s 8,600 acres to grow cotton and, of course, needed water for their crops.

When the water agency bought most of the property in 1988, it obtained the property’s water rights in the process.

Since then, residents of the Santa Clarita Valley have benefited from the deal with 12,700 acre-feet of water delivered here each year — enough water to supply about 12,700 homes in a year.

Discussions about the Devil’s Den lease remains a “closed session” item of discussion at the agency.



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