Solar farms growing in south county

Tulare County Planning Commission approves 3MW solar farm in unincorporated Angiola south of Corcoran

TULARE COUNTY – In May the Sun-Gazette reported more parched farmland in southern Tulare County was being converted to solar farms and the trend has continued into the summer.

At its July 14 meeting, the Tulare County Planning Commission unanimously approved a permit for a new solar farm in Angiola, a small community off Highway 43 south of Corcoran. The 3 megawatt solar farm will place 10,098 solar panels on 20 acres of a 55-acre property near the intersection of Avenue 108 and Road 40. The energy generated by the panels is enough to power about 1,200 homes and will be connected directly to a PG&E powerline. The project is owned by Tulare CSG, LLC which is registered in San Francisco but headquartered in New York, according to filings with the California Secretary of State’s Office.

Chair Maria McElroy noted there are no plans for a well on the site and asked how the company would clean the panels and irrigate landscaping which is part of its conditions of approval “t to shield the project site from public view.”

David Alexander, associate planner for the county, told the commission the project is using drought tolerant plants to meet the landscaping requirement and will bring in water trucks to wash the panels.

Reducing water use will be crucial for the value of the land in southern Tulare County 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. That figure doesn’t include the amount of land which could be fallowed due to the current drought, an uncertainty after the drought declaration only happening earlier this year.

Faced with the bleak prospects of drought and groundwater pumping regulations, many south county land owners are selling former farmland for use as solar farms.

In May the Planning Commission approved an 80MW system near Richgrove which will produce enough energy to power about 600 homes. More importantly, the project, known as a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), will also include nearly an acre of batteries which can store 320 megawatt hours each night, which triples the capacity of the project. This energy can be added to the power grid at night when the panels are not producing energy.

Earlier that same meeting, the commission also granted a two-year extension of time for a similar sized project near Terra Bella. The Deer Creek solar farm is located on 378 acres on the north side of Avenue 96 at Road 224 and is being developed by Vesper Energy and will produce 70MW of power. The project is scheduled to begin construction in 2022 and completed in 2023.

The Houston-based company is one of the leading developer, owners and operators of utility scale renewable energy projects. Vesper recently signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Desert Community Energy. The 20-year deal will purchase 50MW of power and 200MWh of battery storage from the Terra Bella facility for Desert Community Energy customers in Palm Springs.

Last September the commission approved one of the largest solar farms in the nation. 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. Shortly after the vote, 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. 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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