Cupertino-based Solargen Energy cleared a major hurdle this week in its plan to build a nearly 400-megawatt solar farm in the Panoche Valley. Late Tuesday the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the company’s environmental impact report. The project has seen opposition from environmental groups and valley residents concerned about the impact of covering more than 4,700 acres with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The Board also approved the water supply assessment and canceled several Williamson Act contracts, both paving the way for the project to move forward.
“It was a difficult decision for the Board,” said San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho. “It’s a change in a very rural area of our county, and this is a different type of land use than people are used to, ” said the supervisor. “We all have concerns when there’s a change this drastic.”
The EIR approval is just one step the company will need to take before it can break ground. At the county level, Botelho said, the next step is a conditional use permit from the planning commission, which is likely to be taken up by the Board next month. Then the county and the company would negotiate a development agreement, to sort out issues like job preference and training, and revenue streams to compensate for some of the project’s impacts on the area, he said.
Before the Board vote on Tuesday, supervisors spent several hours hearing public comments. Objections to the plan have included encroachment on agricultural land and the habitat of several threatened species, as well as impact on the valley viewshed. Botehlo said that the Board will take the concerns of the project’s opponents into account throughout the remaining steps of the process.
“Hopefully there’s room for everyone,” he said, “including sustainable agriculture, green jobs, renewable energy, and maintaining habitats in this unique valley.”