Wind turbines and a Joshua Tree on a dirt road outside Mojave

LA – Mojave – Rosamond – Tehachapi

Despite some flight delays, and LA traffic, I have found myself more or less where I planned to be according to schedule. That place for the moment is Mojave, California – a town of a couple of thousand people set between the small cities of Rosamond and Tehachapi and surrounded by wind and solar farms.

Thanks to the insight and hospitality of a range of people from the local community, County government and industry, and a willingness to push the off-road capabilities of my hire car, I’ve been fortunate to get both a strategic view and close up inspection of the area’s long history of renewables, which began with heavily subsidised wind turbines in the mid-1980s and now has helped cement Kern County as California’s main source of renewable energy (in addition to being its major source of oil).

Some things I’ve learned:

  • Over time, water shortages (and the related rising cost of water) has turned significant areas of farmland fallow, making renewable energy projects potentially more attractive for those landholders. This is not (yet) something that the Mid West has had to grapple with.
  • Unlike what I’ve seen (and what I believe to be planned) in Australia, turbines are far denser on the ground here.
  • Whilst projects here have benefited from past investment in the grid, there’s concern that the current growth will max out the existing grid infrastructure over the next few years.
  • The nature of the property tax system here, and the provision of exemptions to solar farms (but not wind farms) has seen a proliferation of the former. However, because they don’t pay that property tax (and therefore the County doesn’t receive that income to invest in local services) the State – in providing the exemption – has made projects more financially viable, at the cost of local social licence.
  • On that: When it comes to social licence, the creation of jobs and economic outcomes – including community investment – seems to hold more sway here than the environmental/climate change dividend. (Which feels aligned with the recent CSIRO study).
  • A recurring theme has been the need for good planning, so that projects are sited appropriately and so that proponents have clarity and consistency with regards to the approvals process.
  • The photos you take from the ground don’t do justice to the size and scale of the projects here (but I’ve tried).

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