SunPower project nears completion



San Luis Obispo County planning commissioners have almost finished fine-tuning a 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch project, after nearly five days of hearings focused on preserving the aesthetics of the remote California Valley.

As of day five in the commission’s scrutiny of the project proposed by SunPower, no final decision had been reached.

After more than two-dozen public comments, which rounded out in the late morning of Feb. 3, the commission took the reins, stretching the debate into two further hearings on Feb. 10 and Feb. 15. Another hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 24.

Critics of the project have noted there might be other sites that won’t disrupt habitats for sensitive species, notably the
San Joaquin kit fox and giant kangaroo rat.

SunPower officials insisted they’ve worked to offset impacts, breaking the project into smaller chunks and implementing other mitigation measures largely aimed at easing impacts to the kangaroo rat. At the Feb. 15 hearing, commissioners reviewed a new company proposal—Commissioner Dan O’Grady called it a “valentine from the applicant”—to double the setback of solar panels from Highway 58 to 500 feet.

Commissioners also toyed with putting more of the power lines underground—about a 25 percent increase over the original proposal—striking a balance between preserving views of the valley with protecting habitat. They also decided to remove an onsite visitor center (again to preserve aesthetics), instead requiring SunPower to fund an off-site education facility, though county staffers noted there could be some difficulties later on in the permitting process. They also decided to paint inverter and transformer boxes earth tones instead of white, compromising on a paint shade that would be more visually pleasing without being so dark as to overheat electrical equipment.

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