Westside Toxic Soils to Be Used for Solar Farms instead of Polluting Water Supplies on Westside of the San Joaquin Valley
Giant solar facility proposed for Kings County
ARRAY WOULD GENERATE 2,400 MEGAWATTS OF ELECTRICITY IF FULLY BUILT
May 31, 2013 4:00 pm • By Seth Nidever
Westlands Solar Park — 24,000 acres proposed at full buildout — would dwarf any other solar project proposed for Kings County. The next biggest is a 1,428-acre project west of Lemoore.
“It would be among the largest in the world,” said Bert Verrips, the environmental consultant preparing the environmental impact report on behalf of Westlands.
With the EIR still months away from completion, the concept is drawing support from an unlikely array of environmental groups and farming interests, according to Verrips.
The reason? It’s all about the soil.
The 24,000 acres in question is plagued by salty buildup and poor drainage, meaning it’s extremely difficult to farm. So difficult, in fact, that Westlands bought about 12,500 acres of it just to get it out of production and divert the irrigation water to higher-value soil.
“This is not prime agricultural land,” said Westlands spokeswoman Gayle Holman. “We want to see prime agricultural land used for the production of food and fiber for our nation.”
The remaining acreage in the proposed project area is being irrigated, but virtually every grower has already indicated their intention to sell because it’s so hard to farm there, Verrips said.
“Part of the purpose of the project is to retire more of that land,” he said.
It appears that the project is gaining support in the San Joaquin Valley agricultural community.
One of the benefits, according to Verrips, is that it concentrates solar development on land that is the least useful for growing crops, thereby taking away pressure to locate several smaller projects on good crop-growing ground.
The issue came to a head last year when Kings County changed its zoning ordinance to better protect high-quality farmland from the encroachment of solar projects.
“They have clearly shown that it isn’t productive farmland, that it’s not probable that it will ever be productive farmland,” said Diane Friend, Kings County Farm Bureau executive director. “We aren’t opposed to clean energy. That’s essentially what it can do for the area.”
The project would likely be built in several phases, adding about 200 megawatts of capacity per year. Each 200-megawatt unit generates about 350 jobs, Verrips said, giving the project the potential to create 4,200 jobs when fully completed.
PG&E would buy the power to meet the 33 percent renewable energy requirement by 2020. The electricity would go onto the grid just as it would for any power plant.
The panels would tilt throughout the day to face the sun, according to Verrips.
It’s likely that Westlands would sell its portion of the land to Westside Holdings LLC for solar development, though Holman cautioned that no contracts have been signed yet.
For now, though, the proposal is garnering a lot of support.
“Solar is a good use for land that is no longer prime land,” Holman said.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.