Lawsuit targets California Valley Solar Ranch

Two groups and a resident say plan would cause harm to endangered plants, animals

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMay 30, 2011 

Two environmental groups and a California Valley resident have filed a lawsuit that attempts to stop a recently approved commercial solar project on the Carrizo Plain.

The groups, Carrizo Commons and North County Watch, and resident Michael Strobridge have petitioned the San Luis Obispo Superior Court to overturn the county’s approval of the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch.

The lawsuit cites many of the same arguments the litigants used to fight the project during the more than two years it went through the county’s permitting process.

The main argument is that the project would violate the public trust by causing irreparable harm to the many rare and endangered plants and animals found on the Carrizo Plain.

“Protecting public trust resources are an affirmative duty of government rooted in common law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court over decades,” said Michael Jencks, attorney for the Carrizo Commons group.

Defendants in the case are the county government, project applicant SunPower Corp. and a variety of Carrizo Plain landowners on whose property the project will be built, as well as PG&E, which has contracted to buy the power that the project would produce.

The case has been assigned to Judge Charles Crandall. State law requires that a settlement hearing be scheduled within 45 days of the lawsuit being served, said Tim McNulty, deputy county counsel.

“So far, we have not heard of any hearings seeking stays or injunctive relief,” he said.

North County Watch President Susan Harvey said she wants the county to go back and do a more thorough job of evaluating the impacts, mitigations and alternatives of the project.

SunPower spokeswoman Ingrid Ekstrom declined to comment on the lawsuit but commended the thoroughness of the county’s review of the California Valley Solar Ranch.

“CVSR, which was approved unanimously after very careful review and a total of six public hearings by the SLO Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, will help California achieve its renewable energy goals, increasing the amount of reliable, emission-free solar power delivered by our utility grid and helping reverse the effects of climate change,” she said.

County supervisors gave final approval the SunPower project April 19. It is one of two large-scale commercial photovoltaic projects proposed for the Carrizo Plain.

Earlier this month, the county Planning Commission approved a separate 550-megawatt solar project to the west of the SunPower project.

An appeal to the Board of Supervisors of the second project, the Topaz Solar Farm by First Solar, is considered likely.

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