The county supervisors voted on Tuesday to take the regulatory straightjacket off utility-scale alternative energy development within Santa Barbara County, or to at least initiate the process to make that happen.
Currently, the only place where large-scale solar installations are allowed in Santa Barbara County is the Cuyama Valley. Based on the fine print of the county’s new Strategic Energy Plan — approved by a 4-1 vote — zoning and land-use changes will be initiated to allow such development throughout much more of the county. Also on tap are changes to allow large solar and other alternative energies on ranch land. In the hopper are plans to craft a one-sized-fits all environmental impact report for such development.
While the new energy plan contemplates all sorts of new energy sources — a battery station on Betteravia Road, for example — the viability of solar has the most obvious potential. According to a county energy estimate, there’s at least the theoretical possibility of harvesting enough solar energy in Santa Barbara County to power half a million to a million homes. By contrast, biomass has the potential to power 131,000 and wind 45,000.
Once implemented, the new plan won’t make anything happen per se. It will, however, remove impediments that currently prevent such development from taking place.