Judge sets date to rule on Panoche solar lawsuit

Solar project supporters showed up to the courthouse for a court case late last year.

Judge Harry Tobias on Thursday said he had to read over some materials yet before making a decision in the lawsuit against the Panoche Valley Solar Project, but did set a time to make the ruling.
Tobias told attorneys and interested parties at a hearing Thursday, after listening to arguments, that he needed a week to read over some supplemental documents submitted to the court.
He planned to make a ruling at a 3:30 p.m. hearing Sept. 17, a week from today, at the San Benito County Courthouse.
That came after supporters of the solar project held a rally outside the courthouse, while opponents showed up and held out their own signs expressing opposition as the hearing proceeded.
The Sierra Club and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society jointly filed a lawsuit alleging the San Benito County Board of Supervisors had inadequate grounds May 19 to OK a revised version of an environmental impact review on the 247-megawatt project. Supervisors in May officially rejected an appeal on the prior planning commission approval of the revised EIR, needed due to revisions made to the project such as a reduced size, condensed construction schedule, water use and the process to connect with transmission lines.
Opponents in public meetings have contended the supplemental EIR review should have gone through the same, stringent steps of a full EIR as done with the original, much larger version of the project.
The county’s approval on the revised EIR came after a three-year legal battle between the same environmental groups and the county, also challenging a lack of adequate environmental work, which culminated with a ruling in favor of the county and solar company.
In the latest lawsuit before the judge Thursday afternoon, the two environmental organizations argued that the EIR for the project along Little Panoche Road failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act by: failing to describe a baseline for biological resources, failing to address new research information surfacing since the original lawsuit such as impacts of climate change on the blunt-nose leopard lizard, new information on potential impacts of other species in the area such as the golden eagle, use of groundwater with the accelerated construction schedule, and inadequate recirculation of the new environmental document.
The California Public Utilities Commission in March approved a power purchase agreement for the Panoche Valley solar project. Prior to that, PV2 in August reached a 20-year power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison for the 247 megawatts. The agreement with the Panoche Valley project is over 20 years with an expectation to be online by 2019.
Solargen Energy first proposed the Panoche Valley project in 2009, but when the company encountered financial problems in 2011, PV2 bought the assets for the project. Supervisors first approved of the solar project in 2010 when its scope was much larger.
With the initial proposal, there was talk of building a 1,000-megawatt solar farm on up to 30,000 acres. As recent as late 2013, the project was planned for 339 megawatts. The current version of the endeavor includes a total of 24,000 acres of open spaces, or 10 times the size of the project area.

Leave your comments