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Solar farm goes under the lens

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The Carrizo Energy Solar Farm Power Plant could take a toll on the local habitat, environmentalists say, and they now have a better chance of influencing the project’s scope.

Local environmental group ECOSLO was granted a seat at the California Energy Commission hearings on the project application. Executive Director Morgan

Rafferty said environmental groups did not have a direct voice in the process. ECOSLO argues that the CEC needs to take a closer look at potential “habitat degradation” and other environmental impacts if sensitive habitats get built over.

Although SLO County allows solar farms on agricultural land, the Carrizo project has more than just solar panels and therefore needs an OK from the CEC. The plant would collect energy through solar panels, which heat water to generate steam to power two turbine generators.

But the site’s location is home to a number of federally protected species including the San Joaquin kit fox, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Protected species habitats on the construction site would not kill the project, but it would require a federal “take” permit.

The project applicant, Palo Alto-based Ausra, expects to have construction begin in the first quarter of 2009 and begin pumping electricity into the grid by mid-2010. The CEC, however, does not expect to have its final report ready until March 2009. Ausra could not be reached for comment before press time, but with an ECOSLO voice thrown in the mix there could be more environmental concerns raised that could extend the project’s timeline.

“Because we’re there and participating we might get to shape the process a little bit,” Rafferty said.

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