San Luis Obispo County planners have received a grant for $638,000 from the California Energy Commission to help streamline approval of local renewable energy projects in the county.
The grant will be used to develop maps identifying suitable areas in the county for small-scale commercial solar and wind projects, such as those covering less than 100 acres. In those areas, renewable energy projects would have priority over other uses, said James Caruso, a senior planner in charge of the project.
The purpose of developing renewable energy zones is to minimize conflicts with other land uses. Installation of wind turbines and solar panels can have a variety of environmental impacts that conflict with other land uses such as residences and farming.
“That’s going to be a tough question,” Caruso said. “These areas tend to be on ridge tops and in some valleys which can be visually problematic.”
The project is expected to be complete by April 2015 and will include the preparation of an environmental impact report. The grant covers all costs associated with the project.
The county was one of five to receive the competitive grant. Fifteen counties in Central and Southern California applied for the grant.
Initially, San Luis Obispo County was not eligible to apply for the grant because the program targeted the state’s desert counties such as Inyo, Kern and Los Angeles. But Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, sponsored special legislation that included the county.
Achadjian and the county argued that it made no sense to exclude San Luis Obispo County from the program given the fact that two of the state’s largest solar plants are under construction in the southeastern corner of the county.