After weeks of testimony and so much scrutiny that county officials were debating paint colors on transformer boxes, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission finally approved SunPower’s California Valley Solar Ranch on Feb. 24.
Unless there’s an appeal of the project—which there undoubtedly will be—SunPower now has approval to build its 250 megawatt photovoltaic project in the Carrizo Plains, an environmentally sensitive area most known as a habitat for the endangered giant kangaroo rat and San Joaquin kit fox.
“This is a rock-and-a-hard-place kind of project and it has been from the beginning,” Commissioner Carlyn Christiansen said at the close of the public hearing.
Indeed, all commissioners (minus Dan O’Grady, who was out recovering from surgery) noted the precarious position of curbing greenhouse gas pollution, but creating other forms of collateral environmental damage in doing so.
Though no appeals had been filed as of press time, county planner and project manager John McKenzie anticipated something would come in a day or two before the March 10 deadline. If appealed, the project will go to the SLO County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
It will be a short breather for commissioners, who are scheduled to begin public hearings for First Solar’s Topaz Solar Farm on March 31, which, at about 4,000 acres and 550 megawatts, is twice the size of SunPower’s project.
Steve McMasters, the county project manager for that proposal, said there have been lessons learned from SunPower—which underwent intensive modifications as planning commissioners attempted to lessen the environmental impacts.
“There are some differences, but there are a lot of similarities,” McMasters said.