As deadline looms without final OK, solar investors bet big

Solar project location

Despite state and federal agencies still holding proverbial keys to their project, investors behind a Panoche Valley solar farm have already spent about $50 million on pre-construction and application efforts, a spokeswoman for the endeavor confirmed Monday.
The investors—PV2 and financing partner Renewable Energy Trust—are betting big that four state and federal agencies will give clearance to the 247-megawatt solar project on 2,400 acres in Panoche Valley. Those business interests are pressed up against a deadline as they must complete the project—with an expected 18-month construction schedule—by the end of 2016 to receive a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government.
Locally, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on May 19 gave its final go-ahead, on an appeal of the revised environmental review for a scaled-down version of the original plans first broached publicly six years ago.
Solar project spokeswoman Kristina Chavez Wyatt confirmed to the Free Lance that investors had spent $20 million on pre-construction efforts—to ensure they can break ground promptly after getting a final government OK—and “probably $50 million thus far” in total with application efforts included. Currently, the total project estimate is about $650 million, she said.
They plan to hire an estimated 500 workers during the construction phases. Initially, they had planned four phases. Now they are looking at two, and possibly one longer phase, due to the time constraint, Chavez Wyatt said.
As for the holdups at the state and federal level, the agencies needing to give authorization include California Fish & Wildlife, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Fish & Wild Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Chavez Wyatt, who pointed to a 24,000-acre habitat and wildlife conservation plan included in the project.
She said project investors have her working on setting up job and training fairs.
“It all hinges on getting these permits,” she said.
Chavez Wyatt lauded work by such officials as Congressman Sam Farr and State Assemblyman Luis Alejo, both Democratic representatives of San Benito County, in supporting the project at the state and federal levels.
Aside from Panoche area residents in opposition, organizations against the project include the Sierra Club, Santa Clara Audubon Society, Audubon California, Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife.
Look back for more including reaction from involved agencies.


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