Cal Poly study: California Valley solar project could inject millions into local economy

Cal Poly’s College of Business estimates that the proposed 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch will inject $315 million into San Luis Obispo County’s economy during the project’s 25-year life.

More than $100 million of that impact will be in the form of worker wages, with the rest coming from purchases, workers spending their wages and other multiplier effects. Two-thirds of this impact will come in the first three years of the project when it is being built, said Stephen Hamilton, chairman of Cal Poly’s economics department.

“At the county level, the California Valley Solar Ranch provides a range of benefits resulting from the actual construction and operation of the facility in San Luis Obispo County,” he said.

The construction phase, which could begin as early as this summer, will require 250 employees, mostly electricians, engineers and general construction workers. Once built, the plant will have a permanent staff of 12 and generate enough power for 100,000 homes — or about as many homes as there are in the county.

Permanent workers at the plant would earn an average of about $67,000 a year. Wages would range from $100,000 a year for the plant manager to half that for cleaning and maintenance staff.

During the three-year construction phase, electricians would be the most numerous employees. Annual construction wages would range from $80,000 for an operating engineer to $55,000 for general laborers.

An economic impact report for the project was detailed at a news conference Wednesday in San Luis Obispo. The project is proposed by SunPower Corp. and would be built near Highway 58 at the eastern edge of the Carrizo Plain in eastern San Luis Obispo County.

Various speakers, including Ken Smokoska, of the local electrical workers’ union; Michael Manchek, of the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo; and Matthew Green, Cuesta College director of workforce development, stressed the serendipitous timing of the project with the economy in recession and local unemployment in the construction trades at 17 percent, down from a peak of 27 percent a year ago.

The county Planning Commission will take up the project Jan. 27. Any appeal to the Board of Supervisors is likely to be heard in March.

The SunPower project is one of two photovoltaic projects proposed for the Carrizo Plain. The other is a First Solar 550-megawatt plant.

The economic impact of the First Solar project is likely to be similar to that of the SunPower plant, Smokoska said.