On June 2, First Solar got an OK from SLO County to begin studies for an Environmental Impact Report related to its planned 9.7-square-mile Topaz Solar Farm. That approval means three proposed projects in the Carrizo Plains are officially under review and on the path to construction.
First Solar’s is the largest of the proposed projects. The company bought the Topaz and other projects from OptiSolar in April. They’re using the same initial application but have plans to modify the proposal and change the project design. First Solar representative Alan Bernheimer said the redesign should reduce the project size by about one third. Under the current design, the Topaz Solar Farm alone would be nearly the size of San Luis Obispo.
SunPower’s proposed 6.8-square-mile California Valley Solar Ranch is still under environmental review. SLO County planning commissioners will have an early discussion on both projects and potential environmental impacts on June 11.
Ausra’s one-square-mile Carrizo Energy Solar Farm is farthest along in the application process, but because of its unique design is under review of the California Energy Commission, not SLO County.
An ongoing wildlife study is the largest blockade to all three projects. State officials required the study in response to concerns that the massive expanse of solar panels will disrupt migration of several indigenous species, including the endangered kit fox. According to the commission, the wildlife study should be complete by September. Based on those findings energy commissioners will determine how to offset the environmental impacts, which likely will require the solar companies to purchase and preserve large areas of habitat.