County planning commissioners Tuesday resolved one of the key stumbling blocks to construction of a 250-megawatt solar plant in the Carrizo Plain.
The commission supported a compromise offered by applicant SunPower Corp. that would reduce the number of above-ground electrical collection lines while still protecting the habitat of the endangered giant kangaroo rat.
At a previous meeting, Commissioner Dan O’Grady proposed putting the lines underground to reduce the plant’s visual impacts. SunPower and several other commissioners balked at that, saying it would negatively impact the kangaroo rat, the project’s overriding environmental concern.
On Tuesday, SunPower proposed burying more of the lines, a reduction of about 25 percent, and setting the solar arrays farther back from Highway 58. Under the proposal, the number of utility poles would be reduced from 201 to 154.
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The closest pole would be 3,500 feet from the highway. The company also proposed increasing setbacks of the solar arrays from Highway 58 from 250 to 500 feet.
O’Grady said he was disappointed that not all of the electrical lines would be buried but called the compromise offered by SunPower a “meaningful reduction.”
The commission will take the SunPower project up again Feb. 24. It will be the fourth hearing the panel has given the project.
The commissioners have ironed out many of the specifics of the project. Now, they are ready to start discussing the language they will have to adopt in order to justify approving the project even though it will have significant environmental consequences.
These so-called overriding considerations include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the state’s percentage of renewable power. If approved by the commission, the project is expected to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.
SunPower hopes to get the project approved so construction can start by September.
A second 550-megawatt solar project is proposed for the Carrizo Plain and is in the permitting process.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.