Friday, February 04, 2011

Light It Up, Part III

On Thursday, the Planning Commission returned to the job of parsing the Sun Power solar generation plant out on the Carrizo plains. The Commissioners had taken a tour of the site on Wednesday. Some notes and oddities:

Visual Issues:
--Set backs from Highway 58 has been moved from 200 to 250 yards.
-- power poles are to be light colored
-- it’s likely the visitor center will be moved out from the center of the facility and put closer to Highway 58 or moved into California City itself where there are already buildings and easy access from the road. Concerns were expressed that having the visitor center in the middle of the array would present security issues as well as environmental ones. And there was talk of combining visitor center activities with the other solar array that’s planned to go out in that neck of the woods since it would be silly to build two of them. It was also suggested that the visitor center be sited where it could, perhaps, overlook at least one array and possibly give an overview of the entire valley, which would give visitors a sense of the entire place and a its place within the valley.

Biological issues
--SunPower will settle land mitigation costs up front to take care of those costs early-on, it being stated that that would help reassure investors since there won’t be any hidden or unknown costs waiting in the wings.
-- There is an abundance of mitigation land available. (I’ll bet, considering California Valley has a long history as a sort of “swampland in Florida” real estate scheme that suckered in a long list of buyers with dreams of becoming land barons, only to hit the reality wall when lack of water caused the whole scheme to crash and burn. Which means there’s likely a whole lot of “willing sellers” out there just waiting for someone looking to buy mitigation-offset land.)
--noise and night lighting impacts: suggested use of downcast lighting, minimize lights in the first place, link security lights to a security system – lights go on only when the alarm system is triggered, which would give security personnel light to go check things out, but would mean security lights wouldn’t have to stay on all night & etc. The real concern here is affecting the Carrizo’s stunning “dark skies.”
--- Commissioner Topping repeatedly returned to the rather ridiculous land use policies that resulted in a rather ironic situation that puts all sorts of expensive EIR’s and mitigation measures for SunPower, for example, to install a solar array, while Farmer Jones can happily farm his 1500 acres with no requirements, even though he’s farming smack dab in the middle of a valley filled with endangered species of all kinds and that farming long ago destroyed endangered habitat and annual plowing keeps that habitat destroyed.
     True, any farmer who knowingly destroys a K-rat, for example, can be fined (or if the Fish and Wildlife ranger catches Farmer John actually killing a K-rat, he can be arrested on the spot), but define “knowingly,” as in “knowingly destroy.” And, yes, if you suddenly start farming fallow land, land likely to have been colonized with K-rats, the Feds could end your farming days right quick. And yes, most farmers and ranchers are wonderful stewards of the land and are more and more going “organic” in their land use practices But, the fact remains: farming destroys endangered habitat, so while a company like SunPower has to pay through the nose and jump through a great many mitigation hoops to offset destroyed habitat, Farmer John can plow his acres pretty freely. A point Mr. Topping repeatedly pointed out, to the general agreement of the Commissioners who are well aware of the various oddities in the County’s land use plans.
-- More irony – once farming stops, K-rats recolonize the area. So, it’s likely, since you can’t “farm” under solar arrays, the rat population may boom under and around the arrays, while farmland all around the arrays will continue to be disked all to hell and gone with nary a whisper of “mitigation.”

Worker Safety
-- SunPower will pay up front for increased CHP presence and the taxes the arrays generate will pay for increased presence of Sheriff, code enforcement, environmental monitors and fire personnel. This increase needed to adequately cover the workers camps and also make sure there’s sufficient manpower to suppress any grassland/wild-fires that could endanger the fragile habitat.
--Concerns were expressed over Valley Fever being stirred up by building the arrays, but it was noted that regular farm plowing would release more dust at one time than that being released by the arrays since they’re going in piece meal and the project is required to use dust suppression techniques (which aren’t required when plowing a field.) A representative from County Public Health made it clear that Valley Fever is endemic in the soil of the whole county (along with anthrax, which is in soil where cows and sheep are raised) so trying to pinpoint the source of any Valley Fever spores is nearly impossible. (Said public health personage put up a county Valley Fever map (second highest number of cases being in Paso Robles area) and noted that CMC inmates are a huge “hot spot” of cases, and alluded to prisoners being exposed to roadway dust, so I can only presume CMC road-crew prisoners are being exposed in high numbers, which means they’re not given proper safety (breathing) apparatus while they’re working, which sets up the creepy vision of slave labor gangs sent into dangerous situations where they’re exposed to possibly deadly pathogens?)
--So while real mitigation was impossible vis a vis Valley Fever, it was suggested that SunPower conduct an education outreach for valley residents, and staff will inquire further and get back to the Commissioners with any further information that might help with that issue.

Meeting to be continued on Thursday, February 10 th, from 9 a.m. – 12, Topics still left to go through: Water, Ag issues and noise. If the Commissioners get through those issues, they’ll also receive more staff information from their previous deliberation, and may start voting on the issue. Or, as is more likely, that session will be continued to Thursday Feb. 24th, (9-?) where it will most likely be completed, voted on, then go to the BOS.

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