A large solar project, 1.2 million panels on roughly 3,200 acres, is being proposed for the Panoche Valley, South of Hollister. The project poses an interesting question, which environmentalist gets the nod?
According to the Audobon Society the issues center around wildlife habitat and corridors for travel. With several endangered species living in the valley and serving as home to more than 130 bird species, the Audobon Society opposes development that might further endanger wildlife.
The counter argument says the remote valley, 20 miles from the nearest town, with 18,000 acres from five willing sellers, is the perfect remote location to provide 420 megawatts of energy. Enough energy to power 315,000 homes and replace one mid-size natural gas power plant.
PG&E has plans for a large solar farm in San Luis Obispo by partnering with Haywards OptiSolar for 550 megawatts as well as a partnership with San José’s SunPower for a 250 megawatt farm in the same area.
Sustainable farmer Kim Williams points out Solargen, which has never built a solar farm, is going after federal subsidies which are readily available due to increased interest in alternative energy. Williams hints Solargen may not be ready for a project of this magnitude.
Senator Dianne Feinstein supports solar farms and wildlife protection. Feinstein introduced a bill that would end ambitious plans for solar farms in the Mojave Desert to protect federal lands and wildlife habitat.
There is no easy answer here and the question pits environmentalists against each other.