A 280-megawatt solar farm in remote southeastern Monterey County will provide a short-term economic boost for northern San Luis Obispo County, according to local business leaders and a regional economist.
Jordan Levine, director of economic research at Beacon Economics, said the ripple effect of the California Flats Solar Project, to be built by Arizona-based First Solar, will have significant, temporary impacts in the local housing, retail and equipment supply markets.
Although First Solar won’t disclose construction costs, the project is expected to create about 500 jobs during its construction phase and generate an economic impact of about $200 million in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties, according to an economic and fiscal analysis prepared by Cal Poly, said Steve Krum, a First Solar spokesman. That’s taking into account the jobs, purchase of materials and supplies, as well as workers’ expenses for such items as food, rent and gas.
The plant will be built on 2,900 acres of Hearst Corp.’s Jack Ranch, along Turkey Flat Road, off Highway 41 — just north of Cholame where Highway 41 veers off from Highway 46 east of Paso Robles. The location isn’t visible from Highway 41.
Construction is scheduled to start midyear and conclude by the end of 2016.
Apple Inc. will buy 130 megawatts of electricity a year, or about 46 percent of the power, which it values at $848 million over the 25-year life of the project. That energy will be used for its campus, retail stores and other California facilities.
The rest of the power will be purchased by PG&E.
Levine said Wednesday that he wasn’t familiar with the project and hadn’t analyzed specific economic data in connection with it.
But the Los Angeles-based economist noted the effects of a similar solar farm project, the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm, also built by First Solar, on the Carrizo Plain. It’s twice as large as the one being built on the Jack Ranch.
Levine said that First Solar, in addition to seeking to hire local labor, made purchases locally of equipment and building supplies, which provides a significant bump in sales tax revenue. That would benefit nearby communities such as Paso Robles.
“The real impact is in that first phase, the construction phase,” Levine said. “That’s where it’s going to be felt the most.”
Spending by workers, some from out of the area, will be felt in local restaurants, retail stores and rentals, he added.
“Workers will be going out to eat, buying and renting cars, and spending money around town,” Levine said.
Sunni Mullinax, chief executive officer of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, said the project “will affect the greater Paso Robles area on multiple levels.”
“With discussions of 500 employees,” she said, “hotels, housing, general services, fuel and tourism should all experience gains.”
Mullinax said Apple’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint is a “continuation of their leadership in the business world, and it is all happening right in our backyard.”
Paso Robles City Manager Jim App also said he isn’t familiar with the project, the planning of which has been administered through Monterey County.
But App said he, too, envisions a temporary lift for the city’s economy.
“A project of this size would typically provide a short-term boost to local commerce as workers access shops and restaurants, the company acquires goods and services, and contractors engage local talent,” he said.
Vicki Shelby, legislative assistant for county Supervisor Frank Mecham, said Mecham envisions jobs for local workers as the biggest impact.
Shelby added that the nearby Shandon school district could see a boost in student enrollment and possibly provide a parking site for workers who will be bused to the construction site, according to the environmental impact report.
She said the unincorporated areas of the North County also could provide housing for workers.