Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Plenty of places for solar plants

The Tribune lobbed a “solar-powered brickbat” at North County Watch after we signed a settlement agreement requiring First Solar to shut down its Carrizo Plain solar plant and restore the industrialized site when its permits expire some three decades hence.

The Tribune’s attempt to set up an adversarial straw man — “OK, so let’s shut down solar and drill more oil wells, shall we?” — is a superficial, off-point sound bite that fails to acknowledge the issues or the collaborative nature of settlement agreements.

The point: There are plenty of good places to build solar power plants. The Carrizo, home to the highest number of endangered and threatened species in California, was the last place that should have been selected for one, let alone two. In this context, the tired “NIMBYism” criticism is shameful and absurd. The presence of species fully protected by the National Endangered Species Act (NEPA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and numerous other laws make this a statewide and national issue. A dozen other solar companies are proceeding with more than 80 solar projects located on low-value habitat land throughout the San Joaquin valley with no opposition or delays.

The solar companies are required by their permits to decommission and restore the lands at the end of the life of the plants. In concert with agreements already signed between the solar companies and national environmental organizations, our agreement requires the project lands to become mitigation lands at the end of the project’s life. Given the rapid advances in development of alternative energies, these plants could become obsolete long before the permits expire.

California has plenty of opportunity for allowing photovoltaic installations with little or no environmental impact. The California Energy Commission estimates a total residential and commercial rooftop solar photovoltaic capacity of 60,000 megawatts statewide, not including shaded roofs or rooftops used for other purposes. In addition, the state Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI), California’s ongoing renewable energy transmission siting process, evaluated a distributed photovoltaic alternative that would produce 27,500 megawatts from 20-megawatt installations of ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays at 1,375 non-urban substations around the state.

Black and Veatch, engineering contractor for RETI, estimates 2,922 megawatts of distributed photovoltaic capacity on large commercial roof space near substations within PG&E’s service territory. This figure does not include residential photovoltaic, ground-mounted installations of 20 megawatts or less, or small- and medium-size commercial rooftop photovoltaics.

If we want to free our children and grandchildren to make smart choices in the future, we should get the facts and try to make smart choices now. North County Watch acted to enhance the chance of survival for the imperiled species of the Carrizo Plain in what remains of their habitat, if — and it’s a big if — they survive the construction of industrial projects in their midst and the companies’ experimental mitigation measures.

That’s the kind of thing “environmentalists” do, with or without The Tribune’s ironic quotation marks.

Susan Harvey is the president of North County Watch, a local nonprofit committed to balanced and responsible development. She and her family have lived in the county for 35 years.