§ 84.29.035  Required Findings for Approval of a Commercial Solar Energy Facility.
   (a)   In order to approve a commercial solar energy generation facility, the Planning Commission shall, in addition to making the findings required under § 85.06.040(a) of the San Bernardino County Development Code, determine that the location of the proposed commercial solar energy facility is appropriate in relation to the desirability and future development of communities, neighborhoods, and rural residential uses, and will not lead to loss of the scenic desert qualities that are key to maintaining a vibrant desert tourist economy by making each of the findings of fact in Subdivision (c).
   (b)   In making these findings of fact, the Planning Commission shall consider:
      (1)   The characteristics of the commercial solar energy facility development site and its physical and environmental setting, as well as the physical layout and design of the proposed development in relation to nearby communities, neighborhoods, and rural residential uses; and
      (2)   The location of other commercial solar energy generation facilities that have been constructed, approved, or applied for in the vicinity, whether within a city or unincorporated territory, or on State or Federal land.
   (c)   The finding of fact shall include the following:
      (1)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility is either:
         (A)   Sufficiently separated from existing communities and existing/developing rural residential areas so as to avoid adverse effects, or
         (B)   Of a sufficiently small size, provided with adequate setbacks, designed to be lower profile than otherwise permitted, and sufficiently screened from public view so as to not adversely affect the desirability and future development of communities, neighborhoods, and rural residential use.
      (2)   Proposed fencing, walls, landscaping, and other perimeter features of the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will minimize the visual impact of the project so as to blend with and be subordinate to the environment and character of the area where the facility is to be located.
      (3)   The siting and design of the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be either:
         (A)   Unobtrusive and not detract from the natural features, open space and visual qualities of the area as viewed from communities, rural residential uses, and major roadways and highways,1 or
         (B)   Located in such proximity to already disturbed lands, such as electrical substations, surface mining operations, landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, etc., that it will not further detract from the natural features, open space and visual qualities of the area as viewed from communities, rural residential uses, and major roadways and highways.
      (4)   The siting and design of project site access and maintenance roads have been incorporated in the visual analysis for the project and shall minimize visibility from public view points while providing needed access to the development site.
      (5)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not adversely affect the feasibility of financing infrastructure development in areas planned for infrastructure development or will be located within an area not planned for future infrastructure development (e.g., areas outside of water agency jurisdiction).
      (6)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not adversely affect to a significant degree the availability of groundwater supplies for existing communities and existing and developing rural residential areas.
      (7)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will minimize site grading, excavating, and filling activities by being located on land where the existing grade does not exceed an average of five percent across the developed portion of the project site, and by utilizing construction methods that minimize ground disturbance.
      (8)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be located in proximity to existing electrical infrastructure, such as transmission lines, utility corridors, and roads, so that:
         (A)   Minimal ground disturbance and above ground infrastructure will be required to connect to the existing transmission grid, considering the location of the project site and the location and capacity of the transmission grid,
         (B)   New electrical generation tie lines will be co-located on existing power poles whenever possible, and
         (C)   Existing rights-of-way and designated utility corridors will be utilized to the extent practicable.
      (9)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be sited so as to avoid or minimize impacts to the habitat of special status species, including threatened, endangered, or rare species, Critical Habitat Areas as designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, important habitat/wildlife linkages or areas of connectivity designated by County, State or Federal agencies, and areas of Habitat Conservation Plans or Natural Community Conservation Plans that discourage or preclude development.
      (10)   Adequate provision has been made to maintain and promote native vegetation and avoid the proliferation of invasive weeds during and following construction.
      (11)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be located so as to avoid or mitigate impacts to significant cultural and historic resources, as well as sacred landscapes.
      (12)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be designed in a manner that does not impede flood flows, avoids substantial modification of natural water courses, and will not result in erosion or substantially affect area water quality.
      (13)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not be located within a floodway designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been evaluated for flood hazard impacts pursuant to Chapter 82.14 of the Development Code, and will not result in increased flood hazards to upstream or downstream properties.
      (14)   All on-site solar panels, switches, inverters, transformers, and substations shall be located at least one foot above the base flood elevation as shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
      (15)   For development sites proposed on or adjacent to undeveloped alluvial fans, the commercial solar energy generation facility has been designed to avoid potential channel migration zones as demonstrated by a geomorphic assessment of the risk of existing channels migrating into the proposed development footprint, resulting in erosion impacts.
      (16)   For proposed facilities located on prime agricultural soils or land designated by the California Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program as Prime Farmland, Unique Farmland, or Farmland of Statewide Importance, where use of the land for agricultural purposes is feasible, the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not substantially affect the agricultural viability of surrounding lands.
      (17)   If the proposed site is subject to a Williamson Act contract, the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility is consistent with the principals of compatibility set forth in California Government Code § 51238.1.
      (18)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not preclude access to significant mineral resources.
      (19)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will avoid modification of scenic natural formations.
      (20)   The proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will be designed, constructed, and operated so as to minimize dust generation, including provision of sufficient watering of excavated or graded soil during construction to prevent excessive dust. Watering will occur at a minimum of three times daily on disturbed soil areas with active operations, unless dust is otherwise controlled by rainfall or use of a dust palliative, or other approved dust control measure.
      (21)   All clearing, grading, earth moving, and excavation activities will cease during period of winds greater than 20 miles per hour (averaged over one hour), or when dust plumes of 20 percent or greater opacity impact public roads, occupied structures, or neighboring property, and in conformance with Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regulations.
      (22)   For sites where the boundary of a new commercial solar energy generation facility will be located within one-quarter mile of a primary residential structure, an adequate wind barrier will be provided to reduce potentially blowing dust in the direction of the residence during construction and ongoing operation of the commercial solar energy generation facility.
      (23)   Any unpaved roads and access ways will be treated and maintained with a dust palliative or graveled or treated by another approved dust control method to prevent excessive dust, and paving requirements will be applied pursuant to Chapter 83.09 of the Development Code.
      (24)   On-site vehicle speed will be limited to 15 miles per hour.
      (25)   For proposed commercial solar energy generation facilities within two miles of the Joshua Tree National Park boundaries, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility will not be a predominant visual feature along the main access roads to the park (Park Boulevard and Utah Trail), nor will it substantially impair views from hiking/nature trails, campgrounds, and backcountry camping areas within the National Park.
      (26)   For proposed facilities within two miles of the Mojave National Preserve boundaries, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy facility will not be a predominant visual feature of, nor substantially impair views from, hiking and backcountry camping areas within the National Preserve.
      (27)   For proposed facilities within two miles of Death Valley National Park boundaries, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy facility will not be a predominant visual feature of, nor substantially impair views from, hiking and backcountry camping areas within the National Park.
      (28)   For proposed facilities within two miles of the boundaries of a County, State or Federal agency designated wilderness area, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy facility will not be a predominant visual feature of, nor substantially impair views from, the designated wilderness area.
      (29)   For proposed facilities within two miles of the boundaries of any active military base, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy facility will not substantially impair the mission of the facility.
      (30)   When located within a city’s sphere of influence, in addition to other County requirements, the proposed commercial solar energy facility will also be consistent with relevant city zoning requirements that would be applied to similar facilities within the city.
      (31)   On terms and in an amount acceptable to the Director, adequate surety is provided for reclamation of commercial solar energy generation facility sites should energy production cease for a continuous period of 180 days and/or if the site is abandoned.
(Ord. 4213, passed --2013)
1 To assist in this determination, photo simulations of the proposed commercial solar energy generation facility as viewed from sensitive receptors (i.e., residences, trails, parks) and public roadways in the area may be required as part of the project’s application package.