Solar farm to pay county $3M up front

Supervisors approve ordinance granting nation’s largest solar farm use of roadways to lay eight miles of fiber optic cable

TULARE COUNTY – The company building the nation’s largest solar farm in Tulare County said the project would invest over $200 million in the county directly and up to $1.1 billion indirectly.

Now, just four months after being approved by the Planning Commission, 8Minute Solar Energy has already agreed to start off the project by paying the county $3 million.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the first reading of a franchise ordinance granting 8Minute (named for the time it takes light from the Sun to reach the Earth) the right to construct, install, maintain, repair, renew and remove pole lines and underground eight miles of fiber optic cables along roadways bordering the project near the community of Ducor. In exchange for rights to the land for the next 35 years, 8Minute agrees to pay the county $1 million for the first four miles of transmission lines and $250,000 for each of the remaining four miles.

The transmission lines would be located along portions of Road 232, Avenue 56, Avenue 64, Road 224, Road 240, Avenue 32, Richgrove Drive, and Highway 65, or could possibly utilize additional nearby routings.

“Basically this ordinance would allow them to use other roadways as needed,” said Aaron Bock, associate director of the county’s Resource Management Agency (RMA).

Known as the Rexford Solar Project, the solar farm will cover 3,600 acres with enough solar panels to produce up to 700 megawatts (MW) of energy in addition to storing 700 megawatts of energy, enough to provide 100% of the power needed for 180,000 homes each year. The solar arrays would eclipse the state’s biggest solar farm in San Luis Obispo, the 550-megawatt Topaz facility built in 2011. Last year the company signed a 25-year agreement to provide electricity to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In September, 8Minute announced it signed a 15-year power purchase agreement with the Clean Power Alliance to sell 400 megawatts from the first phase of the Rexford Solar Project to serve customers in unincorporated Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The project should start construction next year and come online by the end of 2023.

Bock said most of the farmland is not being irrigated and the project would drastically reduce the “water footprint” of the area which was hit hard during the historic drought from 2012 to 2017. Southern Tulare County already has a water deficit problem as evidenced by issues with land subsidence.

Reducing water use will be crucial for the value of the land in the area as the state of California begins implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Often referred to as “sigma,” the 2014 law requires local agencies to implement plans to become water neutral, meaning they put as much water back into the ground as they take out. The state requires that every area deemed an overdraft basin, such as the Kaweah, Kings and Tule River sub-basins in Tulare County, must figure out a way for the land within their boundaries to be water neutral in the next 20 years. Initial figures estimate the San Joaquin Valley may fallow as much as 1 million acres of farmland by 2040 due to the law.

“I think it’s just important to note that as we continue to go down the route of SiGMA that we are providing property owners with additional options to still retain value for their land, Crocker said. “I think this is a huge benefit to look at options that not only will provide the county with additional revenue but also helping to provide additional water for the other agricultural needs around these sites.”

The ordinance is expected to be formally approved on its second reading at the Jan. 12 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The rest of the $200 million the project is expected to generate will come from a site of sales tax agreement, so taxes on all purchases go to Tulare County, a development agreement of $1,000 per megawatt produced, renting equipment from local vendors and hotel stays and meals for project planners from out of the area, as 8Minute is based in Los Angeles and owns several large, utility-scale solar farms in the west including four in Kern County. The company said they have a portfolio of over 14,000 megawatts including the 260-megawatt Mount Signal Solar Farm in Imperial County. It was founded by Tom Buttgenbach and Martin Hermann in 2009.

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