Supervisors boost renewable energy

Supervisors Tuesday supported changes to the county’s open space element that encourage all forms of renewable energy.

At the recommendation of staff, the board supported removing language added into the element by the Planning Commission that would have given preference to “local” energy sources and increased natural resource protections.

The board tentatively approved the rewording of the energy chapter of the open space element. Supervisors are doing a chapter-by-chapter review of the element, and will formally adopt the entire document at a later hearing, possibly as soon as April 20.

The open space element is the county’s broad planning framework that outlines how the county’s natural resources will be used. Supervisors said they want the county to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, as part of the effort to combat global climate change.

“We need to be making a more robust shift to renewable energy,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.

The changes were supported by owners of two commercial-scale solar energy projects proposed for the Carrizo Plain, as well as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. They said a combination of large-scale and rooftop solar projects will be necessary to meet California’s renewable energy goals.

The changes, however, were opposed by the Strobridge family that lives in the Carrizo Plain as well as two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and North County Watch. They accused the county of selling out to commercial solar special interests and sacrificing the environment of the Carrizo Plain in the name of renewable energy.

County planning staff denied that they are giving preferential treatment to the two commercial solar plants, currently in the permitting process. They would generate 750 megawatts of power.

The purpose of the energy chapter of the open space element is to remove obstacles to renewable energy, and promote renewable energy projects of all sizes while balancing the needs of people and the environment, said Mike Wulkan, one of the planners for the open space update.

Supervisors said they wanted the word local removed from most of the document because local power lacks a precise definition. Small-scale distribution or rooftop energy typically is the most common definition of local power sources.