Solar farm at Paso Robles airport gets approval



Paso Robles is getting its first bonafide solar farm.

On April 25, the city Planning Commission signed off on the permits and environmental documents for a 25-acre, 4-megawatt solar farm to go on the Paso Robles Municipal Airport property.

The facility will be financed, built, and operated by Onyx Renewable Partners. Paso officials told New Times they’ve entered into a 20-year contract with the company, and the city will eventually purchase the energy that’s produced by the plant.

Public Works Director Dick McKinley said the project has two big benefits for the city. The plant’s energy will cost less than energy offered by PG&E, bringing cost savings of $9 million to $10 million over 20 years, he said. The facility will also reduce the city’s carbon footprint, as mandated by a 2013 city Climate Action Plan.

Paso will also avoid paying any construction costs. Onyx shoulders that, and makes it up over time through energy sales. McKinley said it’s how public-private solar projects are frequently done nowadays.

“It’s what they do in school districts across California,” McKinley said. “There’s no out-of-pocket cost for us. They do it on our property, and we don’t charge them rent.”

The solar panels at the facility will be ground-mounted, fixed-tilted or tracking panels with a maximum height of 8 feet. Officials say the panels won’t produce glare that could affect plane pilots; the city’s Airport Commission approved the project on April 20.

The solar farm will be built within 200 feet of the Estrella Adobe Church and Cemetery, a California Historical Landmark. Built in 1878, Estrella Adobe is the first Protestant church ever constructed in North County, according to the SLO County Genealogical Society. While surveyors of the site didn’t find archaeological resources, the environmental documents state that the soon-to-be solar facility has “moderate to high sensitivity for the presence of historical archaeological deposits or features.”

The City Council first signed off on the project agreement in 2015. SunEdison Inc. was the initial partner on the project, but the firm filed for bankruptcy last year. Onyx reportedly acquired its California assets and became the new partner with the city.

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