Construction on solar project expected to start this month

Long-planned project clears final regulatory hurdles and is expected to begin construction in December
panoche valley map may 2015.jpg

The Panoche Valley Solar Project satisfied the latest bureaucratic requirements and is expected to begin construction this month, with the Board of Supervisors encouraging the developer to hire locals.

The board on Tuesday approved certificates of cancelation of Land Conservation Act contracts, more commonly known as the Williamson Act, allowing the embattled project to move forward, seven years after it was first proposed for the southern portion of San Benito County.

"Thanks for hanging in there through all the opposition — not from this county, of course," Supervisor Anthony Botelho told solar farm project vice president Eric Cherniss. "This is a great project and I hope you get those panels up real quick."

The project has staved off numerous legal challenges, most recently from the Sierra Club and Audubon Society, which challenged whether the project had satisfied environmental mitigations. Supporters claim the project will bring 500 construction jobs, resulting in nearly 1,000 "direct and indirect" jobs for the region with a priority for local residents. Opponents claim the project will harm native species and negatively impact habitats.

Project advocates say that despite the opposition from the environmental groups, the solar plant has environmental benefits such as producing enough power to support 68,000 homes, replacing 530 million pounds of coal burned, and protecting native habitat and animal species in the Panoche Valley. 

The project, which was condensed in 2013 by 40 percent to 247 megawatts, was victorious in two previous lawsuits brought by Sierra Club and Audubon Society in 2011 and 2013. The reconfigured project design incorporated suggestions — such as adding wildlife corridors — from resource agencies and species experts. A supplemental EIR was completed in 2015, when the Sierra Club and Audubon Society filed a challenge to the supplemental environmental impact report in June 2015.

Cherniss noted that it cost the company more than $2 million to cancel the Williamson Act on the 25,000-acre project, with the money going to the state of California, not the county.

"The county has been in lock-step with us and we appreciate that," Cherniss told the Board of Supervisors, expressing sympathy for the difficulties the county has faced: "You have very few resources and a huge footrpint." 

Supervisor Margie Barrios closed out the discussion by saying, "Start the project; hire locals!"

Cherniss said that unions have agreed to give employment opportunities to locals seeking work.



BenitoLink Staff