Laws, Regulations & Annotations

Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2014
 

Additional Government Code Provisions

Provisions Relating to Solar-Use Easements

CHAPTER 6.9 SOLAR-USE EASEMENT*


CHAPTER 6.9 SOLAR-USE EASEMENT*

Article 1. Definitions

* Chapter 6.9 was added by Stats. 2011, Ch. 596 (SB 618), in effect January 1, 2012.

51190. Definitions. As used in this chapter, the following terms have the following meanings:

(a) "City" means any city or city and county.

(b) "Landowner" includes a lessee or trustee, if the expiration of the lease or trust occurs at a time later than the expiration of the restriction of the use of the land to photovoltaic solar facilities or any extension of the restriction.

(c) "Solar-use easement" means any right or interest acquired by a county, or city in perpetuity, for a term of years, or annually self-renewing as provided in Section 51191.2, in a parcel or parcels determined by the Department of Conservation pursuant to Section 51191 to be eligible, where the deed or other instrument granting the right or interest imposes restrictions that, through limitation of future use, will effectively restrict the use of the land to photovoltaic solar facilities for the purpose of providing for the collection and distribution of solar energy for the generation of electricity, and any other incidental or subordinate agricultural, open-space uses, or other alternative renewable energy facilities. A solar-use easement shall not permit any land located in the easement to be used for any other use allowed in commercial, industrial, or residential zones. A solar-use easement shall contain a covenant with the county, or city running with the land, either in perpetuity or for a term of years, that the landowner shall not construct or permit the construction of improvements except those for which the right is expressly reserved in the instrument provided that those reservations would not be inconsistent with the purposes of this chapter and which would not be incompatible with the sole use of the property for solar photovoltaic facilities.

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Article 2. General Provisions

51191. Criteria for entering into a solar-use easement. (a) For purposes of this chapter, and for purposes of Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 51200), the Department of Conservation, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, upon a request from a city or county, may determine, based on substantial evidence, that a parcel or parcels is eligible for rescission under Section 51255.1 for placement into a solar-use easement if the following criteria are met:

(1) The land meets either of the following:

(A) The land consists predominately of soils with significantly reduced agricultural productivity for agricultural activities due to chemical or physical limitations, topography, drainage, flooding, adverse soil conditions, or other physical reasons.

(B) The land has severely adverse soil conditions that are detrimental to continued agricultural activities and production. Severely adverse soil conditions may include, but are not limited to, contamination by salts or selenium, or other naturally occurring contaminants.

(2) The parcel or parcels are not located on lands designated as prime farmland, unique farmland, or farmland of statewide importance, as shown on the maps prepared pursuant to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Natural Resources Agency, unless the Department of Conservation, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, determines that a parcel or parcels are eligible to be placed in a solar-use easement based on the information provided in subdivision (b) that demonstrates that circumstances exist that limit the use of the parcel for agricultural activities. For purposes of this section, the important farmland designations shall not be changed solely due to irrigation status.

(b) To assist in the determination described in this section, the city or county shall require the landowner to provide to the Department of Conservation the following information to the extent applicable:

(1) A written narrative demonstrating that even under the best currently available management practices, continued agricultural practices would be substantially limited due to the soil's reduced agricultural productivity from chemical or physical limitations,

(2) A recent soil test demonstrating that the characteristics of the soil significantly reduce its agricultural productively.

(3) An analysis of water availability demonstrating the insufficiency of water supplies for continued agricultural production.

(4) An analysis of water quality demonstrating that continued agricultural production would, under the best currently available management practices, be significantly reduced.

(5) Crop and yield information for the past six years.

(c) The landowner shall provide the Department of Conservation with a proposed management plan describing how the soil will be managed during the life of the easement, how impacts to adjacent agricultural operations will be minimized, how the land will be restored to its previous general condition, as it existed at the time of project approval, upon the termination of the easement. If the Department of Conservation determines, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, pursuant to subdivision (a), that lands are subject to this section, the city or county shall require implementation of the management plan, which shall include any recommendations provided by the Department of Conservation, as part of any project approval.

(d) A determination by the Department of Conservation pursuant to this section related to a project described in Section 21080.43 of the Public Resources Code shall not be subject to Division 13 of the Public Resources Code.

(e) The Department of Conservation may establish a fee to be paid by the landowner to recover the estimated costs incurred by the department in participating in the consultation described in this section.

51191.1. Agreement. Any county or city may enter into an agreement with a landowner pursuant to Section 51255.1 to use lands determined to be eligible pursuant to Section 51191 in a solar-use easement in the manner provided in this chapter.

51191.2. Term of easement. The execution and acceptance of a deed or other instrument described in subdivision (c) of Section 51190 shall constitute a dedication to the public of the use of lands for solar photovoltaic use. Any term easement and covenant shall run for a term of not less than 20 years unless a shorter term is requested by the landowner, in which case the term may be not less than 10 years. A solar-use easement for a term of years may provide that on the anniversary date of the acceptance of the solar-use easement, or on any other annual date as specified by the deed or other instrument described in subdivision (c) of Section 51190, a year shall be added automatically to the initial term unless a notice of nonrenewal is given as provided in Section 51192.

51191.3. Contents of deed or other instrument. (a) A county or city may require a deed or other instrument described in subdivision (c) of Section 51190 to contain any restrictions, conditions, or covenants as are necessary or desirable to restrict the use of the land to photovoltaic solar facilities.

(b) The restrictions, conditions, or covenants may include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1) Mitigation measures on the land that is subject to the solar-use easement.

(2) Mitigation measures beyond the land that is subject to the solar-use easement.

(3) If deemed necessary by the city or county to ensure that decommissioning requirements are met, the provision for financial assurances, such as performance bonds, letters of credit, a corporate guarantee, or other securities to fund, upon the cessation of the solar photovoltaic use, the restoration of the land that is subject to the easement to the conditions that existed before the approval or acceptance of that easement by the time that the easement terminates.

(4) Provision for necessary amendments by the parties provided that the amendments are consistent with the provisions of this chapter.

(c) For term easements or self-renewing easements, the restrictions, conditions, or covenants shall include a requirement for the landowner to post a performance bond or other securities to fund the restoration of the land that is subject to the easement to the conditions that existed before the approval or acceptance of the easement by the time the easement terminates. The Department of Conservation may adopt regulations pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Division 3 of Title 2) to implement this subdivision.

51191.4. Effective date; approval by governing body. No deed or other instrument described in subdivision (c) of Section 51190 shall be effective until it has been accepted or approved by resolution of the governing body of the county or city and its acceptance endorsed thereon.

51191.5. Violation of easement. (a) During the term of the solar-use easement, the county or city shall not approve any land use on land covered by a solar easement that is inconsistent with the easement, and no building permit may be issued for any structure that would violate the easement. The county or city shall seek, by appropriate proceedings, an injunction against any threatened construction or other development or activity on the land that would violate the easement and shall seek a mandatory injunction requiring the removal of any structure erected in violation of the easement.

If the county or city fails to seek an injunction against any threatened construction or other development or activity on the land that would violate the easement or to seek a mandatory injunction requiring the removal of any structure erected in violation of the easement, or if the county or city should construct any structure or development or conduct or permit any activity in violation of the easement, a person or entity may, by appropriate proceedings, seek an injunction.

(b) The court may award to a plaintiff who prevails in an action authorized by this section his or her cost of litigation, including reasonable attorney's fees.

(c) Nothing in this chapter shall limit the power of the state or any county, city, school district, or any other local public district, agency, or entity, or any other person authorized by law, to acquire land subject to a solar-use easement by eminent domain.

51191.6. Recording with county recorder and county assessor. Upon the acceptance or approval of any instrument creating a solar-use easement, the clerk of the governing body shall record the instrument in the office of the county recorder and file a copy with the county assessor. After the easement is recorded, it shall impart notice to all persons under the recording laws of this state.

51191.7. Assessment. The parcel or parcels subject to a solar-use easement shall be assessed pursuant to Section 402.1 of the Revenue and Taxation Code during the term of the easement.

51191.8. Department of Conservation; regulations. The Department of Conservation may adopt regulations pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Division 3 of Title 2) for the implementation of this chapter.

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Article 3. Extinguishment of a Solar-Use Easement

51192. Extinguishment methods. (a) A solar-use easement may be extinguished on all or a portion of the parcel only by nonrenewal, termination, or by returning the land to its previous contract pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 51240) of Chapter 7.

(b) (1) If either the landowner or the county or city desires in any year not to renew the solar-use easement on all or a portion of the parcel, that party shall serve written notice of nonrenewal of the easement upon the other party at least 90 days in advance of the annual renewal date of the solar-use easement. Unless written notice is served at least 90 days in advance of the renewal date, the solar-use easement shall be considered renewed as provided in Section 51191.2.

(2) Upon receipt by the owner of a notice from the county or city of nonrenewal, the owner may make a written protest of the notice of nonrenewal. The county or city may, at any time prior to the renewal date, withdraw the notice of nonrenewal.

(c) If the county, city, or the landowner serves notice of intent in any year not to renew the solar-use easement, the existing solar-use easement shall remain in effect for the balance of the period remaining since the original execution or the last renewal of the solar-use easement, as the case may be.

51192.1. Restoration of land. In the case of a solar-use easement that is extinguished because of a notice of nonrenewal by the landowner or due to termination, the landowner shall restore the land that is subject to the easement to the conditions that existed before the approval of the easement by the time the easement terminates.

51192.2. Termination fee; county assessor determination of value. (a) If all or a portion of the parcel held in a solar-use easement will no longer be used for the purposes outlined in the easement the landowner may petition the county or city to approve termination of the easement.

(b) Prior to any action by the county or city giving tentative approval to the termination of any easement, the county assessor of the county in which the land is located shall determine the current fair market value of the parcel or parcels to be terminated as though the parcel or parcels were free of the easement restriction. The assessor shall certify to the county or city the termination valuation of the parcel or parcels for the purpose of determining the termination fee. At the same time, the assessor shall send a notice to the landowner and the Department of Conservation indicating the current fair market value of the parcel or parcels as though the parcel or parcels were free of the easement restriction and advise the parties, that upon their request, the assessor shall provide all information relevant to the valuation, excluding third-party information. If any information is confidential or otherwise protected from release, the department and the landowner shall hold it as confidential and return or destroy any protected information upon completion of all actions relating to valuation or termination of the easement on the property. The notice shall also advise the landowner and the department of the opportunity to request formal review from the assessor.

(c) Prior to giving tentative approval to the termination of any easement, the county or city shall determine and certify to the county auditor the amount of the termination fee that the landowner shall pay the county treasurer upon termination. That fee shall be an amount equal to 121/2 percent of the termination valuation of the property.

(d) If it finds that it is in the public interest to do so, the county or city may waive any payment or any portion of a payment by the landowner, or may extend the time for making the payment or a portion of the payment contingent upon the future use made of the parcel or parcels and the parcel or parcels economic return to the landowner for a period of time not to exceed the unexpired period of the easement, had it not been terminated, if both of the following occur:

(1) The termination is caused by an involuntary transfer or change in the use which may be made of the land and the land is not immediately suitable, nor will be immediately used, for a purpose which produces a greater economic return to the owner.

(2) The waiver or extension of time is approved by the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency. The secretary shall approve a waiver or extension of time if the secretary finds that the granting of the waiver or extension of time by the county or city is consistent with the policies of this chapter and that the county or city complied with this article. In evaluating a request for a waiver or extension of time, the secretary shall review the findings of the county or city, the evidence in the record of the county or city, and any other evidence the secretary may receive concerning the abandonment, waiver, or extension of time.

(e) When termination fees required by this section are collected, they shall be transmitted by the county treasurer to the Controller and deposited in the General Fund, except as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 51203 or subdivision (d) of Section 51283.

(f) It is the intent of the Legislature that fees paid to terminate a contract do not constitute taxes but are payments that, when made, provide a private benefit that tends to increase the value of the property.