The county Planning Commission on Thursday approved a 250-megawatt solar power plant on the Carrizo Plain, a move that will usher in an era of change for the isolated corner of the county.
It will also begin to put the county at the forefront of renewable energy in the state. The project will provide enough power for 100,000 homes, about as many as are in the county.
A second 550-megawatt solar plant is also proposed for the Carrizo Plain. The project by First Solar will receive its first Planning Commission hearing March 31.
At the close of the 250-megawatt project’s hearing, which stretched over days and dozens of hours, Chairwoman Carlyn Christianson said it was the hardest decision she has made as both a county and San Luis Obispo city planning commissioner.
In the end, commissioners said the benefits of the project, in terms of increasing the state’s renewable energy supply and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, outweighed its environmental impacts on the ecologically sensitive Carrizo Plain and its residents.
“I think it’s time to start doing something about the issues facing us rather than just talking about it,” Christianson said.
Commissioner Jim Irving said he was moved by the concerns of the residents of the Carrizo Plain. He repeatedly argued for placing conditions on the project that would reduce impacts such as traffic and exposure to the disease Valley Fever, which is likely to be heightened during construction activity.
“If it were my backyard, I would probably feel differently,” he said in voting to approve the project.
Approval opens a two-week appeal period. Appeals will almost certainly arise.
Greg Blue, project manager for project applicant SunPower Corp., said the commission performed its due diligence in considering all aspects of the proposed plant in detail.
Timing of the approval is good, he said. The project will create hundreds of unionized construction and trade jobs and pump $315 million in economic benefits into the county, according to a Cal Poly study.
Thursday’s hearing featured an unexpected and ironic aspect. Commissioner Dan O’Grady, whose district includes the Carrizo Plain, was absent. Throughout the hearings, O’Grady had been vocal in suggesting changes to the project that would reduce its visual impacts.
In a written statement, O’Grady said he is ill with pneumonia and was too sick to participate in the final hearing. He urged the commission to complete the hearing without him.
The vote to approve the California Valley Solar Ranch was 4-0.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.