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May 23, 2022

Community Board: Agencies ought to move now on solar project

There never really was a doubt that San Benito County supervisors would support the Panoche Valley Solar Project, a 247-megawatt effort set to result in an estimated 500 construction jobs locally and even more over the long term. It’s less clear, though, how four state and federal agencies might rule on the project opposed by an array of big environmental groups and neighbors of the site.
It’s a positive sign that county supervisors put unanimous support behind the project, which could help to advance efforts at the state and federal levels.
As for pending decisions at the state and federal levels, 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. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for making a decision on the environmental impact statement, the federal equivalent of the environmental impact report OK’d by supervisors at the county level.
Developers must finish the project by the end of 2016 in order to receive a 30 percent tax credit, crucial to making the project pencil out.
Clearly, there are several hurdles left to jump for the project investors, PV2 and the Renewable Energy Trust. Those investors say they have spent more than $50 million so far on pre-construction and application efforts.
One opponent, Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, questioned whether the economic pluses touted by project investors outweigh the negative environmental impacts, particularly to sensitive areas for birds and endangered species such as the blunt-nose leopard lizard. Opponents like the Audubon Society and Sierra Club have legitimate concerns about impacts on endangered species and birds that dwell in Panoche Valley and attract hundreds of tourists each year.
Project supporters, however, have done more than enough mitigation—drastically reducing the size of the project while setting aside 24,000 acres of permanent, open space. This project offers a major opportunity for the economy. With the mitigation work, it now also offers a net positive for the environment. That’s without even considering the benefits of solar energy produced from the Panoche site powering close to 70,000 homes. In the end, it’s a no-brainer for the community as a whole.
This project offers significant benefits for the economy and the environment. With broad local support—except for neighbors to the site understandably protecting their viewsheds—state and federal agencies have no legitimate reason to hold up this project any longer.

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