L.A. County supervisors refuse to put the brakes on the 230-megawatt project despite the military contractor's contention that it would interfere with its radar testing operations.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors denied a request from Northrop Grumman Corp. to delay final approval of a major solar project in the Antelope Valley near the military contractor's facility for testing radar evading stealth aircraft.
On a voice vote, supervisors rejected Northrop's appeal Tuesday, opting to let plans for the 2,100-acre complex of photovoltaic solar panels proceed. Final approval was expected Dec. 7, 2010.
Grumman argued that the project would "adversely impact the military mission" of the sensitive, 1970s-era testing center, just south of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County.
Antonovich noted that the project, AV Solar Ranch One, already has received a conditional use permit from the county regional planning commission.
The renewable energy developer, First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., has solid backing from area business, civic and government leaders, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the mayors of Lancaster and Palmdale.
The 230-megawatt project would provide 400 construction jobs in an economically depressed part of the county, said Frank De Rosa, a senior vice president. Once completed in 2013, it would generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes.
A solar energy generating plant is "the highest and best use for this particular property," said Mel Layne, president of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance.
The Daily News wire also reported on the story stating that a representative from Northrop Grumman said the 10 foot high photovoltaic panels would interfere with the contractor's testing of stealth aircraft. Northrop tests the B-2 bomber in the high desert and manages "several fully classified programs" aimed at creating the "next generation of stealth aircraft" in Palmdale, which would be adversely affected, said Leonard Figueroa, a director of engineering for Northrop. He said the projects at risk are secret and could not be publicly discussed.
The county's Regional Planning Commission approved the project on Sept. 15. Attorneys for Northrop Grumman did not file documents in objection until Friday. Attorneys for Northrop from Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton "just dropped off a stack of materials Friday afternoon," said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, adding that he found the last-minute timing "unprofessional."
Jack Rubens of Sheppard Mullin said experts needed time to review the Environmental Impact Report for the project, which they didn't receive
"The goal is to allow this project and others to go forward," said Rubens. But his client sought to delay the project until they could work out alternatives with the county.
Antonovich said he understood that the company was positioning itself to ask for payments from the county to mitigate the cost of making operational changes. The supervisor noted that public hearings were held in June and September and detailed the long history of the permitting process more than once during the discussion, trying to refute Rubens' allegation that the defense contractor learned of the project only after it was approved.
The supervisor added that he had no advance warning of Northrop's decision last January to move its headquarters and 300 to 360 jobs to northern Virginia. He learned of the move on the morning of the company's announcement to the press, he said.
The affected Northrop facility "directly supports programs employing 15,000 people in Los Angeles County," but only 15 employees work at the site, according to Figueroa.
The board's vote to allow First Solar Inc. to proceed with the project was unanimous.