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Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to Consider Cuyama Solar Project

A solar farm proposed for the Cuyama Valley to generate enough electricity for up to 15,600 homes is scheduled to go before the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The Cuyama Solar Project is proposed for 327 acres at 596 Kirchenmann Road in the northeastern corner of Santa Barbara County.

First Solar is developing the project it hopes will begin operating in 2015.

Planning commissioners will consider several matters related to the project during a meeting set to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Betteravia Government Center’s board hearing room at 511 E. Lakeside Pkwy. in Santa Maria.

On the South Coast, people may remotely testify by video in the Planning Commission Hearing Room, which is located in the Engineering Building, Room 17, at 123 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

The Cuyama project is item No. 7 on the commission’s agenda Tuesday.

The project would be able to generate 40 megawatts of electricity. In addition to generating enough electricity for 15,600 average homes, the solar farm could displace carbon dioxide emissions by 30,000 metric tons annually, or the equivalent of removing 6,000 cars from the road, First Solar said.

“The Cuyama Solar Facility would also contribute to achieving local renewable energy goals and address public concerns related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, energy security, and fossil fuel dependence,” the staff report said.

Approximately 600,000 2-foot-by-4-foot photovoltaic modules would convert sunlight directly into low-voltage direct current.

The modules would be mounted on 60-foot-long steel and aluminum support structures in a horizontal tracking device that follows the sun.

The proposed project would require amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Development Code to allow utility-scale solar photovoltaic facilities on up to 600 acres of land designated Agriculture II or Agriculture Commercial, and zoned AG-II, in the rural area of the Cuyama Valley. Some parcels need to be rezoned to accommodate the facility.

In connection with the project, proponents are seeking to cancel the Williamson Act contract for 167 acres. But the remaining 1,362 acres would be re-enrolled into a replacement contract to keep the land in agriculture uses.

The commissioners must rule on assorted permits and other matters, including certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report.

The document identified several areas of concern, most of which would be mitigated. However, visual resources, agricultural resources and land use impacts would remain significant and unavoidable, county staff said..

Several Santa Barbara County residents sent letters of support for the alternative energy project.

The Santa Barbara-based Community Environmental Council also emailed an action alert to rally support for what representatives called “the only major energy alternative to fossil fuel electrical generation currently pending in Santa Barbara County.”
  
However, the Santa Barbara Audubon Society asked planners to postpone action on the project, with a representative saying the organization didn’t have enough time to review the Final Environmental Impact Report.

“Giving the public only 15 days to review this massive document is clearly insufficient,” wrote society co-president Stephen J. Ferry, saying other alternative energy projects had longer review periods.

Additionally, the solar facility will require modifications to the Pacific Gas & Electric Company Cuyama Substation.

This would include adding approximately 2,760 square feet to the substation, installing a 15-foot-by-30-foot battery building with a height of 12 feet, and installing an approximate 90-foot-tall telecommunications pole located within the Cuyama Substation fenced area.

First Solar also is building a much larger facility in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. The 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm is under construction in the California Valley.

The facility would produce enough electricity to power 160,000 average homes.

In February, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company announced it has entered into definitive agreements to acquire the Topaz Solar Farm.

First Solar agreed to build, operate and maintain the facility for MidAmerican.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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