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Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects
Remote, inhospitable desert land gains new value as developers seek sites for renewable energy. Industry observers caution that not every owner is going to make a fortune.
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Realty agent Larry Cullinane stands at abandoned truck scales and looks at 400 acres in the Mojave Desert that he would like to sell as a potential solar site. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / February 15, 2012)

ALSO

By Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times
February I@d,
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Reporting from Ripley, Calif.desert. • No paved roads. Check.

For Sale: 3,400 acres in the

Graphic:

Land ownership

in the Mojave

Desert Region

• Isolated. Ideal. • Land not suitable for farming. Perfect. • Blistering sunshine. Jackpot.

Problems cast shadows solar project

of doubt on

• Asking price: $34 million. Deal. As large-scale Southwestern speculators higher. solar development has spooled out into gold rush is about and land

deserts, the modern-day

more than renewable

energy. Solar companies

are gobbling up scarce private land in the
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California deserts, driving prices up 10- to 20-fold, or even
Wind power blowing up in California

Desolate acreage that a few years ago might have sold for less than $500 an acre can now fetch as much as $20,000 an

http://www.latimes.cominews/locallla-me-solar-land-20120218,0,1528083,ful1.story

2/20/2012

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects - latimes.com

Page 2 of5

acre, according being converted

to land brokers

in the region. Farmers

are big $25 for Full-Day Adult or Teen Lift Ticket (reg. $50)

also getting in on the action. Alfalfa and cotton fields are to solar and wind farms as the industry's mega-deals. what's happening," said Jean Laborde Colorado of players put together "It's mind-boggling Bakersfield, agricultural for 45 years. Laborde has made a killing lately. About 10 years ago, one of his clients listed 750 barren
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New DOE maps show wind energy potential in U.S.

a former farmer who has been selling land in the Mojave and adjacent deserts

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acres near the town of Mojave, no water, the wind blows said this was a Godforsaken

but Laborde

couldn't

sell it. He finally bought the land

himself for $350 an acre. "There's all the time," he said. "Everyone place." Laborde held on to the property, to someone who intended

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then sold it a few years ago paid, but the price out to be

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to build a solar power plant.

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reactors

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Laborde won't disclose what the developer the best deal I ever made."

today would be $10,000 an acre, he said. "Turned

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a.m.

Google Real estate specialists warn that not all desert landowners farmers into to a

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will enjoy a similar payday, but try telling that to old-timers who hear about deals that have turned

with

millionaires. consortium

A recent example of investors,

is the family of alfalfa growers

in Gila Bend, Ariz., who sold 3,000 acres of cropland solar giant Abengoa for $45 million. renewable energy company,

who then sold the land to Spanish

Earlier this year Ari Swiller, who heads aLos Angeles-based gathered County assessor's County Assessor office has seen in 15 years. Although

quietly

up 11,000 acres near Blythe - the largest aggregation

of separate

parcels the Riverside per

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the property

hasn't been resold, Riverside

Larry W. Ward said land in the area that typically sells in "the low hundreds"

acre is now going for $2,000 to $3,000 an acre. That part of the state offers what solar developers and reliable sunshine. few thousand acres. solar farms sprouting in the desert are on federal land, which companies prefer private property, and expensive even at high prices, of bureaucracy: a snarl of federal and state analysis before the first shovel of Depending require: mostly flat land near transmission may need a few hundred lines, or a

on the size of the plant, companies

C nB

Most of the utility-scale lease for a nominal environmental dirt is turned.

yearly rate. But some developers time-consuming

because public land carries a thick sediment laws that requires

Private land carries few similar impediments. protected species, a solar developer

As long as the parcel holds no cultural

resources delays.

or

can move quickly and avoid costly construction reason. If a renewable energy project

Solar companies private property suitable tortoise. Solar companies buying contigoous rush. Most hire brokers operate Oakland-based

covet private land for another compromises developer habitat

on public or requires that desert

for endangered

species, the developer

must buy biologically

private land to account

for that loss. The I vanpah

Solar Project, for example,

BrightSource

buy 7,000 acres to replace habitat

for the threatened

are reluctant

to speak publicly about land prices, partly out of fear that they will market. Developers try to fly beneath the real estate radar, often to avoid igniting a land different names or through third parties

inflame an already overheated

parcels under

or land scouts who bump along dirt roads trolling for cheap land. They, too,

quietly and seldom disclose whom they represent. said the market has spawned

John Reeder, a land broker with Sperry Van Ness in Ontario, speculators, "investors who have purchased or control options a solar company." The high-priced sales have longtime landowners salivating.

on land, whose only plan was to sell to

But despite the talk of a land rush, most

are still waiting to score.

http://www.latimes.cominews/locallla-me-solar-land-20120218,0,1528083,ful1.story

2/20/2012

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects - latimes.com

Page 3 of 5

In 1948, Russ Roberts' his ancestor

great-grandfather

bought

565 acres of desert scrub near Baker. Roberts

said

was convinced

that with the growth of Las Vegas, land along the highway from Los

Angeles would become prized. The gamble hasn't developers really paid off for Roberts' family, although now, with renewable an acre. in Germany. Nothing solid yet, energy

calling, they have hope. The family is asking $7,000 Roberts

"We get a lot of tire-kickers," though." Bobby Miller handled Desert southwest ground

said. "Calls from big companies

the $45-million

transaction

in Gila Bend, a farming of the idea that everyone

outpost

in the Sonoran

of Phoenix.

But he is dismissive

with a few acres of dusty

is going to get rich selling to big solar. the hope that their parcels would be like this," said Miller, who has weariness of someone who has surfed I can sell you lots of bulk acreage at

"The sale gave everyone trademarked

the nickname

"Dr. Dirt" and has the seen-it-all

dozens of boom and bust cycles. "I think they are dreaming. $800 an acre." Other real estate specialists that their projects agreements

warn that many sales collapse at the last minute government incentives

as solar developers

find

don't pencil out, often because

or power purchase

don't come through. high front -end costs, solar developers and other subsidies to finance construction have been accelerated are dependent on federal loan solar plants. and the land-

To meet the exceptionally guarantees, Renewable tax rebates

of multibillion-dollar

energy subsidies

by the Obama administration, end of some federal incentives. market.

buying frenzy is in part caused by the approaching The complexities involved in solar projects

have made for an uncertain

Larry Cullinane,

who

has been selling land near Hesperia

since 1975, estimated

that 90% of all solar land deals fall apart in

the first year, leaving the seller to start over with little more than a deposit. "One of my clients has had close to $200 million fall out of solar contracts said. "In most cases it's a financial solar developers." Buyers, too, have reason for skepticism. runaway establishing Cullinane As California homeowners know from painful experience, scenario. for various reasons," he

100

Sights in Arizona»

Some of the owners get fed up with dealing with the

real estate prices carry a risk. Prices have risen so sharply the true value of raw desert land is difficult. said two of his clients, brothers

and sales have been so spotty that In celebration of the state's centennial, 100 things to see and do. Video here are

in their 80S, own 640 acres they have farmed for $10,000, and are today asking $3.5 million. transmission

and grazed

since 1940. The men bought the property

The plot is good for solar, but it is 21/2 miles from the nearest price is about double its true value - although Cullinane tortoise

line. Cullinane

thinks the

a naive buyer or a speculator

might think otherwise. desert habitat

and some of his peers in the Mojave have also spotted mitigation land. Cullinane to $5,000 now judges land according Class 1 mitigation

a niche in the solar market:

to how suitable

it would be to relocate

the tortoise.

land goes for $1,200 an acre, he said, while the best-quality an acre.

might bring $3,000

"Just in the Mojave, I've got 20,000 acres, and in Kern County I've got about 15,000 acres for potential mitigation property," Cullinane said. in the heart of the tortoise habitat, and with a reasonable

Iflarge-scale companies question loss.

solar projects required whether

continue

to proliferate

to find two to three acres of habitat

for each acre they displace, California

becomes

enough private land exists in the Southern

desert to cover the

Less than 17% of the Mojave's Janine tortoise Blaeloch, director mitigation

20 million acres is private property. Lands Project, calls this the elephant in the room ofthe

ofthe Western

program.

"Just take a look - there just isn't enough land for them to find and buy," she said. "It's the fatal flaw."

julie.cart@latimes.com Los Angeles Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

http://www.latimes.cominews/locallla-me-solar-land-20120218,0,1528083,ful1.story

2/20/2012

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects - latimes.com

Page 4 0[5

THE SOLAR DESERT / One in a series of occasional articles chronicling the wide-ranging effects on the West of the emerging solar-energy industry.
Copyright

©

2012,

Los Angeles Times
12

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fr-ankieq at 8:53 PM February 19, 2012 just another dream.you want to your money fast invest in solar or any kind of green power.

Not_Fooled at 10:34 PM February 18, 2012 Liberals and government will find some way to regulate Progressives are progressing us into the dark ages

this into a money losing failure.

I Am George Vreeland Hill at 9:35 PM February Keep everything out of the hands of Edison. George Vreeland Hill

18, 2012

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