Was Sarah Christie right?

January 4, 2010

County planning commissioner Sarah Christie was forced to step down last December, primarily because the supervisor who originally appointed her–5th District representative Jim Patterson–felt that he and Christie had a basic philosophical disagreement on key policy issues.

According to one local newspaper article, key among those disagreements was the Carrizo Plain, and whether or not two solar energy companies–SunPower and First Solar–should be allowed to build extensive projects on what many consider to be sacred land. Christie apparently took a much harder line on letting the construction proceed than did Patterson. [New Times]

However, if it’s any consolation to Christie, Bill Powers happens to share a similar approach to solar energy in California. The engineer and energy consultant believes the state should be thinking small when it comes to solar and wind energy. Powers believes that every available rooftop in the state should be covered with photovoltaic solar panels, especially commercial buildings. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Powers is skeptical of building massive solar energy plants.  He argues the small panels can be installed quickly, don’t require big new power lines, and the price has dropped nearly 40 percent in the last year.

“The solar plants in the desert are albatrosses,” Powers told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It will be much more beneficial for those solar panels to be sitting in the urban core where they’re going to be used.”

Under state law, 20 percent of the electricity the utilities sell in California must come from renewable sources by the end of 2010, though no experts believe that deadline to be practical.

The apparent disagreement between Christie and Patterson on solar energy reflects the wider division in the environmental movement. Carl Zichella of the Sierra Club wants as much small-scale generation as possible, but he doesn’t believe it will be enough to meet California’s energy demands. He says that distrust and dislike of California’s big utility companies fuels the support of the small-is-beautiful idea.

The debate is far from over in San Luis Obispo County. Don’t be surprised if Bill Powers pays a visit soon and weighs in on the Carrizo Plain.



  1. zoom9951 says:

    There is not enough rooftop space to provide the energy needs of the state so we need both rooftop and large projects. Carriso plains is a logical site because the power lines are right there. If we want to meet the energy needs of the state through sustainable methods, we need to be open to all forms and not limit our options.

    (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  2. rukidding says:

    Most people wil be able to “afford” roof top solar panels in the near future. AB811 allows the cost of the panels to be placed on your property tax bills. The word is that the savings from the solar panels will nearly pay the entire monthly costs of the panels. This actually appears to be a GOOD program that is offered by the government.
    I’ll have to agree that there would not be any financial savings to anyone from the large solar fields in the Carrizo Plains although the large energy companies will probably profit significantly from them.

    (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
  3. walk the talk says:

    Sarah is only against the project because that’s where she likes to ride her pony.

    (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
  4. utube says:

    New PR guy hired by PGE?: Solar Powers KNEW they would not be able to get these installations in with her there- an intelligent, very knowlegeble and forceful opponent-Shows how effective she really was that Colab who was probably hired by PGE, had to get involved. She is UBER smart, does her homework and knows the rules and follows them-A real problem for those who are used to getting around the rules by back room deals and political/business alliances. She is so far ahead of these guys she made them nervous… I hope she can put her expertise to work elsewhere-we need a counter balance to Caldwell poison and PGE and Co power grab-Just check the big developers in town who have close associations to PGE-The usual suspects…
    Ag clusters etc…easements-the long arm of corporate control….I don’t think you’ve heard the end of this story yet…

    (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
  5. bobfromsanluis says:

    While I agree that many, if not most people cannot afford to install rooftop solar panels on their home, perhaps the solar energy companies could come up with a new model for generating power and income; Sun Power and First Solar are all ready to spend whatever it would take to build and maintain the “centralized” power plants- how about they spend the same amount of money on regular photovoltaic panels, and “rent” rooftop space in urban areas. They still own the panels, they maintain them, they keep the proceeds from the sale of the energy generated, and they can pay the building owner “rent” for their rooftop space by providing the building owner with some or all of the electricity the building owner needs. The power grid infrastructure is already in place, the solar panels are already built (off the shelf technology) and there is no need for an EIR. I’m sure there are a few kinks to work out, but it seems to me to be the proverbial “win, win, win”.

    (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
  6. mccdave says:

    “…if it’s any consolation to Christie, Bill Powers happens to share a similar approach…”

    Who’s Bill Powers?

    The New Times link is a 404.

    (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
  7. racket says:

    The fringe has lost its loudest advocate. The mainstream has (hopefully) gained a mainstream opinion on the Planning Commission. Not a lot more to the story than that.

    (4) 20 Total Votes - 12 up - 8 down
  8. Robert1 says:

    But while most can’t afford solar on their homes at least we getting companies that have the capital to start with Green power.Not everyone is going to be happy with all the decisions all the time.

    Christie is so far to one side of the issues she can’t even see the other side,could she is gone and hope Gibson goes next.

    (1) 21 Total Votes - 11 up - 10 down
  9. calvertworthington says:

    Decentralized solar power supplies make sense (i.e. Bill Powers). The large projects, like that planned on the Carizzo Plain, are about profiting from energy ‘credits’ or exchanges sold over the requisite grid as ‘green’ energy. The large solar projects seem as an extension of the power-system monopolies.

    (2) 16 Total Votes - 9 up - 7 down

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