A prospective solar facility may bring significant economic and environmental benefits to San Luis Obispo County this summer, pending the Planning Commission’s approval. Members of SunPower, the company developing the solar panel grid installation and various economists from the city met Wednesday morning to present the positive impacts of this project to the public.
The facility is the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch with 1,500 acres of solar panels whose construction would provide approximately 350 jobs and $315 million in wages and benefits for many local residents. In addition, $11 million would go directly to the county budget, according to the presentation.
These jobs would be filled by construction workers, electricians, carpenters, engineers and laborers. This sector of the job industry has been hit especially hard by the declining economy.
San Luis Obispo unemployment rates in that particular sector are up to 30 percent and account for more than a quarter of all job losses in the county, according to the presentation.
Apart from the economic impact, the ranch would push San Luis Obispo County to the forefront of the nation’s movement toward clean green energy, said Stephen Hamilton, chair of Cal Poly’s economics department.
On the state level, it brings California to meeting its Renewables Portfolio Standard, which requires utility and electric companies to increase its use of renewable energy by 1 percent every year. And in addition to supporting the hardest-hit job sector in the county, it aligns with industries that are growing faster than other segments of the local economy.
“This project has quite a lot of offer,” Stephen said. “It can really position us well in moving forward.”
As a renewable form of energy and alternative to oil, intrinsically the solar farm can sustain the county’s energy needs.
“It will produce enough power to supply energy for every home in the county,” said project director Chris Baker. “That’s about 100,000 homes.”
It would also meet 39 percent of the entire county’s electricity demand.
SunPower is a well-established California-based company that has installed hundreds of similar facilities around the state. The risk factor of setting one of these up in San Luis Obispo is rather small, Baker said. He anticipates the Planning Commission’s acceptance of their proposal in early February. Their approval would allow SunPower to secure all applicable permits and begin construction as early as this summer.
The farm is expected to take two to three years to complete, followed by a 25-year operations period that will employ 12 workers.
The Planning Commission will review and discuss the project proposal at their next hearing on Jan. 27.
President and CEO of Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo, Mike Manchek, believes this project is what the county wants and needs at such a crucial time.
“The world is watching us and the timing could not be better,” Manchek said. “It will help not only the economy, but the environment as well. It propels the county in the national effort to create and sustain green economies.”