Panoche Valley California Large Solar Project is Stonewalled By Committee To do Who Knows What?

California Central Valley Solar News – It is beyond our understanding why any public official would appose anything solar. Recently the San Benito County Agricultural Preserve Advisory Committee voted to deny a large solar farm on property that is unstable for agriculture. Come on California, lets vote these guys and girls out of office and get on with creating good renewable solar energy jobs for this country. The following day the project manager mailed this e-mail. We wish Solargen Energy the best of luck as they move to the next round.

Solargen’s Peterson of Solargen Energy e-mailed the following statement:

“I was surprised by today’s decision but not really disappointed as their committee has a mandate to preserve farmland. However, the final approval for this project will be made by the County Supervisors who understand that this project creates solar jobs and will provide enormous economic benefit to the county. I believe that the Supervisors will agree with the opinion of the California Department of Conservation that canceling the Williamson Act designation on this “marginally productive grazing land” is in the public interest given the renewable energy the project will generate and the local jobs and stimulus it will provide.

“This project will provide 150-200 direct jobs and create an additional 400+ jobs in the community. Third parties have estimated that those solar project direct jobs alone will create almost $81 million of retail spending. When those dollars are spent and re-spent in this community it will make a huge impact. The county will also receive approximately $1 million per year in their general fund to use as they want to improve streets, staff libraries and fund other programs and services. Given the overwhelming community support of the solar project and its large economic benefits, at virtually no cost to the County, I am confident today’s recommendation will be a small factor in the final decision the Supervisors will make.” Freelance News by By Connor Ramey. Read More –

Solargen Energy sustained a setback Thursday in its efforts to build a 420-megawatt solar farm in Panoche Valley when a panel made a recommendation that – if confirmed by supervisors – would halt the proposal from moving ahead.

The San Benito County Agricultural Preserve Advisory Committee voted 3-2 to deny a recommendation to cancel the Williamson Act solar project contracts on property in Panoche Valley where Solargen plans to develop its large-scale solar project.

The Panoche Valley proposal is a 420-megawatt solar farm that would cover more than 16,000 acres – 4,800 by photovoltaic solar panels. Solargen contends the land has scarce potential for agriculture. It also touts the economic possibilities of the $1.2 billion proposal. The 12 Williamson Act contracts must be canceled for the project to move forward, said Tom Slavich, San Benito County assessor.

“If the contract cancellations are denied, it effectively halts the project,” Slavich said.

The recommendation to deny the request will be sent to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decision on whether to accept the solar project cancellations. The decision is expected in the coming weeks.

The Williamson Act is a conservation law passed in 1965 that allows counties to contract with private owners to restrict uses. The landowner receives a lower tax assessment. Since 1971, counties received subvention payments from the state until it was canceled because of the economy in 2009.

The county placed a moratorium on Williamson Act solar contracts earlier in the year due to the loss of subvention payments, Slavich said.

After nearly three hours of discussion, the decision came rather quickly for the committee after Co-chairmen Joe Morris said that the solar farm cancellation was not in the public’s best interest.

For the cancellation requests to be approved, they needed to be in the “public’s interest,” according to the law. The only other way to rid a piece of land of the Williamson Act is to apply for a non-renewable termination, which takes nine years. A solar project cancellation has never gone forward in the county, Slavich said.

After public comments, each member of the panel declined to talk until Morris spoke last.

“The costs of the project are not worth the limited gains it could bring,” Morris said. “It seems the Westlands are a better and more appropriate alternative.”

The Westlands is an alternative site that is listed in the draft environmental impact report in the Westlands Water District between Fresno and King counties. Those who opposed the project at the meeting called Westlands the better location.

Solargen CEO Michael Peterson opposed the location because there was no available land to purchase and it is not “shovel ready.”

Landowner Kim Williams, who opposes the project, called the Westlands the best place for the project because it would cause the least amount of harm.

Others who opposed it said the land in the Panoche Valley was Grade 1 soil that, if lost, would hurt the county. Construction would produce too much noise and create a dust storm that would harm neighbors, said one opponent.

“You don’t need to scrape the land to create a dust storm,” Williams said.

Peterson said the project would benefit the land because of planned sheep grazing and that the soil is not being used for a reason.

“The farmers here are the best in the world, and this property is not being farmed for a reason,” Peterson said.

Morris said the land’s farming potential is unknown because of future advances in solar technology and that the potential of the land outweighs the potential of the project.

“This is important because this is the future of what is going to happen in this county,” Morris said. “Whatever happens it is going to have an impact on this county.”

To cancel a Williamson Act solar contract, a landowner must show either that it is in the public’s best interest or that the land would stay consistent with the purposes of the Williamson Act solar project. To be considered within the public’s best interest, the public concerns must outweigh the objectives of the Williamson Act and there is no “proximate noncontracted land which is available and suitable for the use proposed on the land.”

If approved, the landowner would pay 12.5 percent of the land’s cancellation value, according to a Williamson Act document.

No Williamson Act contract has ever been canceled in San Benito County, Slavich said. Only one piece of land filed for a solar project cancellation in the 1980s but the owner couldn’t pay the fee after the cancellation was approved.

“It’s unique and not done often because it’s so expensive,” Peterson said.

Solargen will continue with the completion of its final solar project environmental impact report to be presented to the board at the same time, Peterson said.

“We will just move forward to the county board of supervisors and prepare the final EIR,” Peterson said. “They will make a decision.” It is our hope that fulfillment of this solar project potential is attained.