<b>HOT TALK:</b> County planner Kathy Pfeifer (seated) fields questions about the solar project.

Len Wood/Santa Maria Times

HOT TALK: County planner Kathy Pfeifer (seated) fields questions about the solar project.

County Moves Forward with First Big Solar Project

40-Megawatt System in Cuyama Would Power 15,000 Homes

Thursday, July 24, 2014
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Pointing northward to what will be a record-size solar farm in San Luis Obispo County, backward to a wind-turbine operation once planned for Lompoc, and forward to what many hope will be a more renewable-energy-rich future, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a 40-megawatt solar array system in Cuyama. (A megawatt is a million watts.)

Pitched by photovoltaic behemoth First Solar, the project’s fate will rest in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, likely to examine the proposal in the fall. Pending the board’s okay ​— ​many speculated it was all but certain ​— ​and its full realization, the First Solar project would go above and beyond its name, becoming the county’s first major foray into alternative energy production.

While many celebrated the commission’s baton-pass ​— ​most of the public speakers supported it, and the holdouts half-heartedly opposed it ​— ​they did so knowing that the county won’t be seeing fields upon fields of solar panels in the future. Although Tuesday’s decision also included changes to streamline processing of future projects, transmission-line capacity in the Cuyama Valley would max out at 75 megawatts, and upgrades would cost tens of millions of dollars.

When the project gets up and running, that would allow for only one other 35-megawatt farm or multiple smaller-scale projects. And the Cuyama Valley, with rampant sunshine and flatter topography, is the region in the county most suited for large-scale solar projects and least likely to attract opposition from environmental groups.

To be located across 300-plus acres southeast of Cuyama, First Solar’s project ​— ​proposed in 2010 ​— ​would provide enough electricity to power 15,000 homes and displace 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, or the equivalent of taking more than 6,000 cars off the road. Farming giant Bolthouse Properties owns the land ​— ​mainly for harvesting water-intensive baby carrots ​— ​but has agreed to give up a chunk of the property for the project, removing the parcel from its Williamson Act contract.

That change has stirred some alarm about setting precedents ​— ​Williamson affords tax breaks for land that is used for farming and preserved from development ​— ​but the county’s plans would allow the land to resume agricultural operations if the project ends after the panels’ 30-year-lifespan. The county will also receive increased property-tax revenues ​with the contract’s cancellation.

The panels, which will come with a 19,600-square-foot switchyard near the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) substation, will move east to west with the sun during the day, feeding their energy into PG&E’s grid, with the nearby grid receiving the initial benefit. First Solar won’t need to use any water for its operations, save for a twice-yearly rinsing of the panels for dust removal.

Cuyama residents, farmers, electrical workers, and environmentalists all voiced their support on Tuesday, with many praising First Solar by playing on its name, calling it “first class” for its public outreach and donations to Cuyama causes. Many touted the jobs the facility would bring ​— ​200 for construction, plus a handful for permanent maintenance positions ​— ​and highlighted the company’s proclivity for regional hiring.

Many farmers expressed relief over the land’s transfer from water-reliant row crops to solar panels and said the electricity generated from the panels could help reduce all-too-common brownouts. Several environmental activists noted the juxtaposition of this project and Measure P, the November ballot measure that would ban all new hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, and cyclic-steaming operations in the county. “Global warming is upon us, and this is our way of dealing with it,” said Commissioner Joan Hartmann. “I’m glad that First Solar is helping the county move forward.”

Supporters had a clear ​— ​and near ​— ​example to point to when detailing the project’s benefits. Currently in construction in San Luis Obispo County is First Solar’s Topaz project, which will provide 550 megawatts of electricity ​— ​enough to juice 160,000 homes ​— ​and is vying, along with another First Solar project in Riverside County, to be the largest solar farm in the world. First Solar’s total operations (including an array in Australia that powers a desalination plant) account for 8 gigawatts of energy worldwide. (A gigawatt is a billion watts.)

Tuesday’s vote came more than a year after Acciona, the company behind the Lompoc wind farm, officially backed out of those plans. The supervisors had approved the 60-turbine project ​in 2009, but the company then endured legal challenges from concerned neighbors. Jefferson Litten of the Community Environmental Council urged the commissioners to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. “There’s no such thing as a perfect energy project,” he said, “but this project is very close.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

What is the projected cost per kWh?

SB_Guy (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 8:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

who is paying for the project? If it is investor money no problem, with tax dollars...well Solyndra didn't work out so well. Please forgive my skepticism. I'm all for renewable energy, but I don't want to dump more money into a technology that isn't ready yet to be market competitive. If it is investor money, then good luck I wish them all the best

I_Pay_Taxes (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

HopeDance FiLMs will be screening the new film called THE FUTURE OF ENERGY this Saturday in SBarbara, 7:30pm, see all the details, map, trailer, reviews etc: ... :
<<The Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People is a positive, fun film that focuses on energy solutions and the people behind the renewable energy revolution. It’s a love story about people re-imagining their relationship to the planet, and falling back in love with the Earth and each other.

“ By the final credits, you’ll know both how and why renewable energy is the cleanest, quickest, cheapest, and safest way to supply all of our energy needs.”
-- Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club

"A most exciting and enthusiastic romp across the US by students of the California Institute of Integral Studies to interview solar folks, mayors and officials who are making things happen in their communities; the interview with the folks of Greensburg, KS is outstanding.
After a tornado hit leaving the town 98% devastated, the town, not known to be tree huggers, decided to revamp their town with solar, biomas and wind (and never bothered to put fences up circling their homes!). Check out their tour book if you wish at :
And the interview from one of CIIS students with CIIS teacher Joanna Macy is deeply memorable."
- Bob Banner for HopeDance

hopedance (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

for FREE installation of solar panels on your roof, contact SolarCity:

hopedance (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Interesting to see Warren Buffet has been one of First Solar's equity partners on their larger projects (10x larger than Cuyama):

Project like these will help utilities met their RPS targets:

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 10:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Solyndra was 1 failure of 40 successes employing 60,000 people. Typical right-wing hype - concentrate on the non-representative company.

1. The loan guarantee program supporting Solyndra has been a success
The loan guarantee program, which provides government backing of private loans for first-of-a-kind projects, was designed to help leverage capital for innovative renewable energy projects during the height of the financial crisis. And it worked. Since the program was enhanced through the stimulus package, it has supported the world’s largest wind farm, the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, some of the largest solar PV plants in the world, and the country’s largest concentrating solar power project — nearly 40 projects in all that helped keep 60,000 people employed during the economic downturn.

2. The Solyndra bankruptcy represented a small fraction of the overall program
The loan guarantee program came under fire after the bankruptcies of a few high-risk companies — most famously Solyndra — that received backing. But according to John McCain’s National Finance Chairman, Herb Allison, the overall cost to taxpayers will be $2 billion less than actually budgeted for. Backing up the findings of Herb Allison, the Congressional Research Office also concluded that the majority of loans were extremely low risk. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk — with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers 94 cents for every $100 dollars invested.

4. Dozens of Republicans supported loan guarantees or similar programs
Since the Solyndra bankruptcy, many Republicans have scrambled to create a political scandal. However, a review of official documents and news reports over the years reveals that more than 60 Congressional Republicans — many of whom are critical of government support of renewables — have lobbied the Department of Energy for loan guarantees, grants, and other support for clean energy projects in their districts. In addition, Congressman Darrell Issa, one of the leaders of the House investigation into the Solyndra bankruptcy, strongly supported billions of dollars in loan guarantees for nuclear energy projects. However, when such tools are used for renewable energy, he labels it “picking winners and losers.”

This country would be helped greatly to improve economically, if the Republican lie-machine would just disappear. Thank goodness at least one Republican (ex-governor) supported renewable energy.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 10:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Another scam foisted on taxpayers. Global warming is a colossal hoax.

skcyclist (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 8:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

tabatha nails it again.

@I_Pay_Taxes, check out the link I posted. It specifically addresses your concern. PG&E is required to perform a risk analysis and submit it to the PUC for approval. No investment is risk-free, but due diligence was done on the First Solar project.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 12:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

thanks tabatha! I am often one to object due to environmental concerns, but if this is in the area I think, off of Kirschenmann Rd., wow, there's nothing out there and what a fine SUNNY place to position a solar field. Great.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 12:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

for FREE installation of solar panels on your roof, contact SolarCity:

Seriously? How dumb do you think we are?

Just remember, when it comes to solar....

The lease is a fleece!

Pay cash or skip it and go buy some LED bulds.

Riceman (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 8:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

These solar companies often are selling the financing package, not the solar panels. "Free installation" is meaningless - because you pay long-term with financing costs for the whole package which is most likely inflated and you may not even get a working system and find out there is no service response anyway. They prey on the eco-suckers who they know ahead of time don't have their head screwed on right.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 9:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@DrDan, that's right. The site is the field at the end of Kirschenmann Rd:

It will have low vertical height (panels less than 13-ft above ground) to minimize visual impact and have steel beam frames that can be dismantled at the plant's end of life (as opposed to poured concrete). No water usage other than a twice-yearly washing of the panels to get dust off.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 10:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wow, so it won't even be able to produce the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity required to power a flux capacitor?

loonpt (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tabatha, your immediate canned responses without corroboration demonstrate central planning mind control. No, ThinkProgess is not corroboration. Just saying. Carry on.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 1:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tabatha, this cut and paste is dedicated to you compliments of American Thinker. energy has five fatal flaws for supplying 24/7 grid power.

Firstly, sunshine at any spot is always intermittent and often unreliable. Solar panels can deliver significant energy only from 9am to 3pm – a maximum of 25% of each day. Solar can often help supply the hot afternoon demand for air conditioning, but demand for electricity generally peaks at about 6:30pm, when production from solar is usually zero.

Secondly, to be a standalone energy supplier, PV solar needs batteries to cover those times when solar is not producing – about 75% of the time under ideal cloudless skies. To charge the batteries for continuous power, while also supplying usable power, a solar plant can deliver a theoretical maximum of only 25% of its daytime capacity. .......

Thirdly, solar energy is very dilute, so huge areas of land are needed to collect industrial quantities of energy. .....

The fourth fatal flaw of solar energy is the pernicious effect of the dramatic fluctuations in supply on the reliable and essential parts of the grid. ......

Fifthly, large-scale solar power will create environmental damage over large areas of land. Solar collectors may manage to convert only about 10% of the sun’s energy into electricity, the rest being reflected or turned into heat. .....

All consumers should be free to use solar energy in their own way at their own cost. But these five fatal flaws mean that collecting solar energy will never play more than a minor and very expensive role in supplying grid power.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 1:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Does that translate to 10,000 acres to build enough solar to power a city the size of San Diego, with over 469,000 homes?

Katydid52 (anonymous profile)
July 27, 2014 at 8:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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