Solar energy plant granted approval

August 26, 2010

California regulators gave final approval for construction of the first large-scale solar energy plant to be approved in two decades. [NewYorkTimes]

After more than two-years of environmental review, the California Energy Commission approved the 250-megawatt Beacon Solar Energy Project planned for a 2,012 acre site in Kern County. The approval comes as several other proposed solar plants, including two in San Luis Obispo County, are battling for approval.

Proponents of the projects contend solar plants would produce clean renewable energy to numerous Californians.

In San Luis Obispo County, the two proposed solar projects are currently winding through the approval process. First Solar is proposing to build Topaz Solar Farms, a 550-megawatt facility with a footprint between 4,550 and 4,700 acres in the California Valley.

The First Solar project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is slated to be available for public review in about two months.

SunPower’s proposed facility’s EIR recently became available for public review. The 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch is slated to have a footprint of 1,900 acres.

Opponents of the project point out that the facility will cause a loss of habitat for protected species such as the San Joaquin kit fox and the giant kangaroo rat. In addition, movement patterns of antelope, fox and elk species will also be impacted by the project.

The projects draft impact report is currently under a 45 day public review. Public comments are due by 5 p.m. on Oct. 12. and should be sent to John McKenzie, San Luis Obispo County senior environmental planner.

Planners have tentatively set Dec. 9 for a study session to discuss comments and to determine if changes need to be made to the EIR. Next, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will conduct a hearing in which they will either give their approval, rejection or modification of the project, slated for Jan. 13.

Regardless of whether or not the project is approved, an appeal either by opponents or proponents of the project is expected to go before the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors in the spring of 2011.

Extra acreage purchased by SunPower is slated to be used as mitigation lands to reduce the impacts to sensitive resources.

“In this case, there is a good chance one of the alternatives will become the project,” McKenzie said. Changes in panel type and design will reduce the plants impact on the environment.