By Helen O’Shea
On a windy, bright day in Lemoore, California another 250 megawatts of clean power was added to California’s energy mix with the dedication of the Aquamarine Solar Project. There are many new solar projects coming online across the country these days, but the Aquamarine project is notable for its innovative development model — it’s part of a 20,000-acre master-planned solar park on fallowed and salt-contaminated agricultural lands in the Westlands Water District in California’s Central Valley.
Disturbed lands farmed for years with no residual habitat value are the perfect place to locate utility-scale solar projects. In 2016 these lands, among many others, were identified as suitable for development by a diverse group of stakeholders through the San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Planning exercise.
Master planning a large area for solar development provides environmental review at scale and sets the stage for individual projects to come online far quicker than they would with individual permitting. And locating the park in an area without resource conflicts means the environmental review also moves more quickly. This model is smart-from-the-start siting, without a doubt.
The idea for the Westlands Solar Park was developed more than a decade ago and has steadily come to fruition with the engagement and support of local communities, farming families who have lived in the Valley for generations, local landowners, labor unions, solar developers, state agencies and environmental NGOs, including NRDC. With a focus on local employment, the project is a great model for how solar projects at this scale can drive job creation. More than 300 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers helped make this project happen — 50-60 of them were apprenticeships, which will contribute to long term solar energy workers.
We know that reaching California’s goals of 100% clean energy by 2045 will require all the strategies we can muster — ambitious energy efficiency and conservation, rooftop, community and utility scale solar, wind and geothermal and energy storage. When fully built out the Westlands Solar Park will provide 2.7 gigawatts towards that 100% clean energy goal. Currently at 10% build out, there is room for many more “Smart from the Start” projects in the years to come.
Originally published by NRDC.
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