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Desert Sunlight Fund Grants Help Revitalize Local Community

Posted 15 February 2013 4:24 PM by Alan Bernheimer

The tiny community of Desert Center, Calif, has seen more than its share of excitement over the decades. During World War II, General George S. Patton prepared for the North Africa campaign at his desert training facility that stretched from Indio to Desert Center, where a million U.S. troops trained between 1942 and 1944. Just a few years later, in 1948, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser began operating an iron mine at nearby Eagle Mountain, with a company town whose population grew to 4,000 – also spilling into Desert Center. But mine operations wound down in the 1980s and Eagle Mountain is now considered a 20th-century ghost town (shades of “The Twilight Zone”).

Although Interstate 10 passes right by Desert Center, population 200, most travelers do just that—pass by. But now, once again, outside forces are changing Desert Center. The area’s abundant sunshine and nearby transmission lines have attracted solar power project developers, including the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm being built by First Solar. As part of its commitment to support local communities, First Solar has dedicated a $350,000 fund to ensure Desert Center residents share in the economic benefits from the project.

Three local non-profit groups recently received over $85,000 in grants from the First Solar Desert Sunlight Fund. About a quarter of the fund is distributed each year, under the direction of the Desert Sunlight Fund Advisory Board, which is made up of seven community members.

  • Eagle Mountain/Desert Center Church of Nazarene, in partnership with the local County Services Area, was awarded $64,000 for a new playground, as well as $6,000 to promote fitness.
  • Eagle Mountain School received $7,500 to purchase laptops and related training for all students and teachers.
  • The Desert Center Chapter of Friends of the Desert Libraries was awarded $8,300 to upgrade the local library with new books, electronics and furniture and to provide a performer for children’s programs.

Desert Sunlight Fund

“The Desert Sunlight Fund grants will help revitalize our community by supporting youth recreation and education, community programs and events and conservation initiatives,” said Travis Rye, Advisory Board Chairman and local firefighter. “We are excited to award this round of community grants, and look forward to seeing the benefits they will bring to the families in our community.”

“First Solar is committed to being a good neighbor,” said Laura Abram, First Solar’s Director of Sustainability and Community Affairs. “It really is making a difference to the kids in the community. Most families don’t have laptops or computers at home or at school, and they don’t have a playground to take their children to. I’m looking forward to seeing additional deserving causes supported in the years ahead.”

In May 2011, First Solar gave $5,000 checks to three local groups: Desert Center Unified School District, Friends of the Desert Center Library, and Lake Tamarisk Residents Association.

According to a study by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and the Brattle Group, Desert Sunlight will pump $336 million into the hard-hit Riverside County economy, with the most of that coming during the construction period from 2011 to 2015.

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm will help California meet its requirement to derive one third of its electricity from renewable resources. The utility-scale solar power plant will provide enough clean, affordable, sustainable energy to power about 160,000 California homes and displace more than 300,000 metric tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions per year – the equivalent of taking almost 60,000 cars off the road.