200-Megawatt Solar PV Plant Approved in California; 300 Jobs Anticipated


Another large-scale solar power plant has been approved in California, this one a photovoltaic installation with a generating capacity of 200 megawatts.


The Kern County Board of Supervisors has unanimously endorsed the project, to be built on 960 acres of privately owned land about 12 miles west of the Mojave Desert community of Rosamond, just west of Edwards Air Force Base and about 90 miles (by road) north of Los Angeles.


The Rosamond Solar project is being developed by Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, the parent company of the utility San Diego Gas & Electric Co.


Unlike most of the solar projects recently approved by state and federal officials for the Southern California deserts, the Rosamond project would deploy photovoltaic modules like those used on rooftops.


“Rosamond Solar will deliver a new supply of solar power to California that moves the state one step closer to reaching its clean-energy goals, while, at the same time, creating more jobs for area residents,” said Jeffrey W. Martin, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation, in a news release.  “California remains a strategic focus for Sempra Generation as we continue to grow our portfolio of solar and wind power projects in the Western U.S.  We look forward to working with Kern County officials and the community of Rosamond on the development of the region’s vast solar resources.”


Since August, a clutch of solar power plants totaling about 3,700 megawatts of capacity have been approved for the Mojave and Colorado deserts in Southern California, representing a historic shift in the source of electricity for the region, state and nation. Most will use concentrating forms of solar technology employing mirrors to focus the sun’s heat energy, rather than photovoltaic modules, which convert sunlight directly into electricity.


Sempra Generation said it expects to break ground on the solar PV plant in 2012 and complete the project in 2013. About 300 construction jobs would be created, the company said in the news release.


The private property, formerly used for agriculture, consists of 48 contiguous parcels that are to be combined to make two parcels. A high-voltage power transmission corridor, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and an airplane landing strip are nearby. The project would connect to a planned new Southern California Edison substation called Whirlwind, part of a transmission project intended to deliver electricity from the sun and wind to the Inland Valley region of Southern California, where air pollution is a problem. The tie line could be designed with two 230-kilovolt circuits “in cooperation with another party’s solar project” to be determined at a later date, a Kern County staff report says.


An Environmental Impact Report required by law found “unavoidable significant adverse impacts” on aesthetics, because the existing visual character of the area would be affected by the rows of solar modules ranging up to 6 to 8 feet high, along with an onsite substation and 16-foot-high enclosures containing inverters to convert the project’s direct current into alternating current.


Air quality would be worsened during construction, the environmental report found, but the staff noted that “the solar energy provided by the project is a much cleaner source of energy than traditional sources used for the generation of electricity, such as the burning of coal, fuel oil or natural gas.”


There are few special-status wildlife species in the project area, the staff report said. Considered alone, it would have a small effect relative to the scale of wildlife habitat in the vast Mojave Desert. However, the report added that comparable renewable-energy projects are proposed or under construction on about 26,000 acres in Kern County, representing a “substantial fraction” of the county’s existing wildlife habitat.


The developer is being required to conduct preconstruction surveys, consult with responsible agencies and fund research into the area’s populations of special-status or sensitive wildlife species.


The project is designed to minimize environmental effects, the report said, by:

Using flat land that has been disturbed or previously degraded to minimize new grading;Avoiding active, productive prime farmland;Using existing electrical lines and roads where practicable;Minimizing impacts to threatened or endangered species by using a previously disturbed site that is not considered critical habitat;Siting the project on land compatible with surrounding uses (mostly vacant land or agricultural activities), “miles away from schools or places of worship;”Minimizing water use with photovoltaic panels that produce electricity without the use of a heat transfer fluid or cooling water; andReducing greenhouse gas emissions by displacing electricity sources that burn fossil fuels, and reducing the need for new fossil-fueled power plants.

“The rural part of southeastern Kern County is well suited for solar energy production because it has among the highest solar radiation levels in the United States,” the staff report said.


Documents filed with Kern County by the developer say that two types of solar PV technology are being considered: monocrystalline (described as microcrystalline in the filings) or thin-film panels. If one approach is used the panels would be fixed in place, but if the other is chosen the modules would track the sun, the filings say.


Sempra Generation is involved in three other utility-scale solar power projects.  The company expects to complete construction of the largest solar PV power plant in the United States later this year in Boulder City, Nev., and recently announced plans to begin the first phase of a 600-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in Arizona in 2011.

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