Lightening the way

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The number of solar farms is growing in Tulare County and at least three near foothill cities are nearing completion.

But the local projects differ from the thousand-acre, 20-megawatt sites seen on national news because the power they generate is used at nearby cities and towns. Don Watson, president of ImModo Solar operations in Tulare County, said construction crews have begun work to level sites for 6-megwatt solar farms near Exeter, Lindsay and Ivanhoe. Known as solar photovoltaic electrical generation plants, one is being constructed on 18.5 acres at the northeast corner of Avenue 232 and Highway 65 west of Lindsay, another on 18 acres at the northwest corner of Avenue 262 and Road 196 south of Exeter, and yet another on 18.9 acres on Avenue 328 and Road 144 west of Ivanhoe.

“By being near the point of use we create more capacity in the system,” Watson said. “We can make the system more flexible by providing energy to offset peak demand times.”

The idea is that rolling blackouts will be a thing of the past. For example, if a City like Exeter is using a lot of electricity to cool homes, keep pool cleans and run irrigation watering systems in the summer, a nearby solar facility would provide the extra electricity needed to meet the increased demand.

Once completed, the solar farms will plug into the Southern California Edison electrical grid serving Tulare County. But instead of having to be sent to a substation and converted to a lower megawatt to reach residential and commercial transformers, the electricity can be sent directly to outlets in cities less than 2 miles away.

“The infrastructure is already there,” Watson said. “We don’t have to build any new transmission lines from the site to a substation. What we are doing is different, and we see this as the future.”

Watson said ImModo chose Tulare County for its solar distribution projects because of the available land, hours of sunlight, Tulare County policies regarding solar and its attitude toward renewable energy and business.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” Watson said. “We are here because the RMA has a progressive attitude to help solar grow here in the Valley.”

The solar farms are part of California’s renewable energy portfolio, the state endorsed plan to provide 30% of the state’s power through green technologies by 2020. Michael Washom, economic development manager for RMA, said Tulare County has approved 19 solar projects in all. Three are live including a large facility known as Atwell Island and two others in Alpaugh. He said projects like ImModo’s not only help pump more power into the system but money as well. During the construction phase of the project, many skilled workers were hired. After construction, more skilled workers will be hired to install the system of interconnected photovoltaic panels.

The projects also protect agricultural land. Washam said each of the projects in Exeter, Lindsay and Ivanhoe is built on citrus farms. None of the sites had prime soil and all of them had been subdivided into four smaller properties and rezoned for residential use. Washam said ImModo brought the parcels back into one large agricultural block and developed a reclamation plan to return all of the sites back to farming once the leases end, if the property owner chooses not to sign a new lease.

“These sites had trees that were dropping in production and soil we would categorize as Class 3 soil,” Washam said. “These would ranchettes had ImModo not proposed combinging these parcels back into a larger, agricultural-sized parcel.”

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