Central Valley Solar Rush

California On Way To Becoming Solar State?

One of my former newspaper colleagues referred in this post to "The great Central Valley solar rush," but it turns out that might be too regional. California could well become the great Solar State.

The number of proposed solar projects exceeds what is required to meet California's ambitious 33 percent renewables by 2020 mandate, according to this Reuters story. It's unlikely that all the proposals will be approved, but it is encouraging to the solar energy movement. I wonder if California will exceed the 33 percent mandate and, if so, by how much?

Solar makes sense in California, especially in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California deserts where the sun shines brightly and land is abundant. There are challenges, however: Some farmers in the Valley fear conflicts with prime ag land, while habitat and other environmental concerns plague some desert projects.

The solar vs farmland issue will be discussed Feb. 6 by planning commissioners in Kings County, where an advisory agency is recommending that solar projects not be placed on land protected under The Williamson Act or on property that is designated "medium priority" or higher. Here is a study document that commissioners will review.

Still, solar is making inroads. Fresno property owners are discovering the power in rooftop solar, and the Valley's farmers are fast adding renewable sources to their operations. Agriculture and water pumping consume about 3.15% of the total power used in PG&E and SCE territories, according to the California Energy Commission, so participation from the farming community is welcome.

I lack the mental bandwidth to understand all the physics involved, but technological advances in solar energy are coming at a breath-taking rate. Costs are decreasing, and it won't be long until solar power reaches parity. Read here about what our friends at UC Merced's fast-emerging solar-energy research center are doing.

With costs falling and Gov. Brown's support, solar could expand in earnest in California, and we'll have more proposals such as this large one for thousands of solar panels in the west side of Fresno County.

Photo of Kerman solar substation courtesy of California Energy Commission