LANCASTER (CBSLA.com) — Residents in the Antelope Valley are blaming a growing number of solar farms for causing dust storms in the area as 35 mph winds whipped through the High Desert on Wednesday.
First Solar, Inc. is behind an effort to make the region more environmentally friendly, with plans to install 3.7 million solar modules in the region.
Within five years, 30,000 acres of the area will be covered with solar farms. Once completed, the ranch is expected to produce enough electricity to meet the energy needs of 75,000 average homes, according to the company website.
CBS2’s Jeff Nguyen reports some residents are upset about the project, however, and believe soil from the half a dozen solar farms already in the area are responsible for increasing health risks and driving out local wildlife.
“We’ve seen a definite increase in the amount of dust storms,” Lancaster resident Barbara Rogers said.
“I don’t consider this a very environmentally friendly at all. They have stripped the land. They have disturbed wildlife.”
Mrs. Rogers’ husband, Ed Rogers, blames the construction of the farms and the leveling of the fields for his diagnosis with valley fever, an infection contracted in desert regions when fungi in the soil is disturbed and becomes air-bound.
Executives at First Solar, Inc say they are in compliance with local laws and are committed to ensuring the company’s practices aren’t negatively affecting air quality.
“We have been working in close collaboration with representatives from LA County and the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District (AVAQMD) to ensure we are meeting dust mitigation requirements, and adjusting our activities when required,” a company spokesperson said Wednesday.
Local business owner Terry Soloman says the firm is not entirely to blame for the dust storms, citing a lack of rain in the area for contributing to loosened soil.
“A lot of dust in the air, yes, from the solar ranch. But causing a problem down there, no. That is hollow ground and blowing, we have not had rain in three years,” he said.
Wind advisories meanwhile remained in effect for the Antelope Valley until 9 p.m. Wednesday, a day after a dust storm in the area caused a 20-car pile-up that closed State Route 14 in both directions for four hours.
The storm caused 18 dust-related accidents that results in several minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Weather experts again warned of hazardous driving conditions Wednesday, with gusts expected to reach 50 mph in parts of Southern California.