Hanford Sentinel

On The Road To Solar Valley

Officials at UC Merced sometimes refer to the San Joaquin Valley as "Solar Valley" to distinguish the emerging clean- energy potential of the 250-mile region from Stockton to the base of the Grapevine.

We are closer to achieving that designation after five solar applications were approved or recommended for approval this week. They include four proposals in Kings County and one just south of Fresno in Fresno County. Together, they total 663 acres.

The proposal south of Fresno is one of about 30 solar plants pitched for various places in Fresno County. However, the emergence of a solar industry in one of the largest agricultural regions in the United States - the San Joaquin Valley is often referred to as the nation's salad bowl - is not without controversy. Applications are carefully scrutinized because farmers worry about solar displacing prime agriculture land.

A lawsuit has been filed, and guidelines are being prepared. The above-referenced Hanford Sentinel story by Seth Nidever notes that solar developers on prime farm land in Kings County must set aside other property for agriculture. In one creative approach, a solar developer is allowing farming between rows of solar panels.

The Fresno Bee, in this editorial, suggests that a balance be struck: "There is much room for compromise on this issue and the board, the solar industry and farming interests must be willing to find it. Solar and other renewable energy technologies are in their infancy. Fresno County cannot ignore their potential," the editorial states.

It remains to be seen how large the solar industry becomes in the Valley, but Gov. Jerry Brown is a big supporter of solar generally. One milestone has already been reached; Rooftop solar power in California has reached 1 gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts, That's enough to power 750,000 houses, according to this San Jose Mercury News article. In an interesting side note, Facebook is installing a rooftop solar system that provides hot water as well. Here's more on that.

The San Joaquin Valley, which its ample sun resources and midstate location, could be a major player in the solar industry.

A Snapshot Of The Valley's Future

I'm going to borrow from the format of my former Fresno Bee colleague Bill McEwen, and note some San Joaquin Valley energy news and links that flashed across my computer screen in recent days.

In deference to Bill's always-interesting platter of newsy and often political nuggets that he labels "Breakfast links," I'll simply call my shorter version a "smattering of stuff."

I'll begin with the north end of the San Joaquin Valley, where electric vehicle manufacturer EVI credits a state grant for its ability to hire 50 employees. (Business Wire).

Environmental groups sue over alleged animal habitat issues associated with a solar project proposed for the Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, just west of us. The authors note similar concerns with solar plants proposed for the Mojave Desert, but not with projects eyed for the Central Valley. (KCET.)

The EPA exempts a natural gas power plant proposed for Avenal from new air pollution rules (New York Times.)

A Hanford dairy adds 4 acres of solar panels to become one of the first milk farms in Kings County to go with sun power. (Hanford Sentinel.)

One county over, in Visalia, a new biofuel plant breaks ground, courtesy of a $20 million federal grant. (sierra2thesea).

The Valley has lots of sun and land suitable for clean-energy projects, and it is close to major population centers. As this list shows, energy can be an economic game changer for us.