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Solar project at Tres Hermanos Ranch stalls out

A political power shift and an escalating legal battle have stalled the City of Industry’s efforts to build a solar farm on the 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch between Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, according to officials close to the project.
The developer, San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC, hit a $20 million cap on its lease in December, according to Susan Paragas, Industry’s finance director.
Because the City Council has yet to increase the limit, the Finance Department has repeatedly denied invoices submitted by William Barkett, one of the few known figures behind the LLC, Paragas said.
Both Paragas and former City Manager Paul Philips notified Barkett that they were not authorized to make any additional payments without City Council approval.
“He’s billed us for two months, and we haven’t paid him,” Paragas said. “He’ll call Paul, he’ll call me, and we both tell him the same thing.”
Barkett could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Work on the proposed 450-watt solar farm began in early 2016. Industry, which owns the land, leased it to SGVWP for $1 a year and began loaning the company millions of dollars to study the feasibility of building solar panels on a 2,450-acre former ranch known locally as “Tres Hermanos.” In exchange, Industry was set to receive an annual fee, as much as $4 million, over the life of the 65-year lease and would have the first right to any energy produced.
The plans, approved in closed session meetings, became public nearly a year later as a result of an investigation by this news group.
In September, Industry agreed to pay $41.6 million to buy the ranch land from its former redevelopment agency after convincing two oversight board members representing Supervisor Hilda Solis that the city would set aside some of the land as public open space. City officials pledged to reach out to the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation to make arrangements, but those conversations never happened.
“There has been no discussion between the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and the City of Industry regarding the Tres Hermanos Ranch property,” Terry Kanakri, spokesman for the department, said in an email.
Lawsuits Diamond Bar and Chino Hills filed last year against the City of Industry have contributed to the delays. The project’s two neighboring cities have alleged Industry violated state environmental and redevelopment laws when it purchased the land from its former redevelopment agency for $60 million less than the appraised value.
Chino Hills City Manager Rad Bartlam said the litigation is moving slowly because of Industry’s inaction.
“There is nothing happening from our perspective,” he said. “We continue to try to cobble together records and Industry continues to stonewall us.”
Officials in Industry claim they need records held by Barkett and Anthony Bouza, a utilities attorney recently fired by the city, before they can respond. The City Council, following a shift in the majority, abruptly fired its city manager and Bouza in the last month. Both men had key roles in the development of the solar farm and efforts to expand Industry’s utility. Surveys sent to Industry’s business leaders in early January asked if the companies would support receiving their power through a more competitive program run by Industry.
Councilman Newell Ruggles said the lawsuits and changes in administration are partially responsible for Tres Hermanos’ delays. Council members have also become concerned about the spending on the project.
“We’re definitely going to look at it a lot closer,” Ruggles said. “We’re still working on the lawsuits and trying to comply with their records requests. That’s our main concern right now.”
Ruggles said the City Council will likely re-examine the project once members finish their administrative reorganization. Industry is expected to undertake a nationwide search to find its next city manager.
If city leaders abandon the solar farm project, it would forfeit the $20 million invested, according to the lease. The agreement with SGVWP only requires the company to repay the loans once construction begins.
Source: Oc Register

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