SunPower’s 110MW US project comes under fire from environmentalists

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SunPower’s 110MW Quinto solar project proposed for Merced County, US, has come under criticism from farmland advocates and environmental groups, reports Merced Sun-Star. The project is to be constructed on over 1,000 acres outside of Santa Nella, generating enough power for about 40,000 households.

SunPower estimates the solar facility will bring US$81.2 million into the local economy, US$5.2 million in tax revenues to the county and other public agencies during construction and operation and will create about 315 construction jobs.

However, protestors against the project have voiced concerns about pathway obstructions for kit foxes as well as the future viability of farming on the land.

“It's important to note that SunPower has incorporated many measures to protect and enhance wildlife on the site, including a design that creates protected open space to ensure clear passage, kit fox-friendly fencing and escape dens, and a commitment to use no pesticides or rodenticides,” said Ingrid Ekstrom, spokeswoman for SunPower.

“The project will support continued agricultural use in the form of prescriptive sheep grazing on site.”

According to the Merced Sun-Star, a draft environmental impact report for the project was submitted in April. The comment period ended on May 21. Due to the extensive comments submitted on the project, county planning officials said they expect a final EIR will not be submitted until late June.

If the Planning Commission approves the project, the board of supervisors will then have to vote on whether to remove the land's agricultural preserve designation under the Williamson Act.

“I hope they dramatically alter their mitigation plan,” said Amanda Carvajal, executive director for Merced County Farm Bureau. “This is very precedent-setting. That's our biggest concern.

“This is a temporary facility for 35 years, but they don't have a real plan for (farmland) reclamation,” Carvajal said, adding that the land includes about 500 acres of “prime farmland,” and more than 300 acres of “productive farmland.”

SunPower officials said they will continue to work with local officials and groups. However, they believe significant mitigation steps have already been laid out in the project documents.

The Los Banos Chamber of Commerce board of directors has voiced support for the project.

Last year, environmental groups raised concerns about SunPower’s 250MW California Valley Solar Ranch and the 550MW Topaz Solar Farm. Fortunately, negotiations resulted in SunPower agreeing to increase the company’s conservation efforts in order to placate protestors and reach a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Under the agreements, SunPower stated it would add more than 9,000 acres to the 17,000 acres they had already agreed to preserve. The company also promised to remove 30 miles of fencing in the area, allowing greater wildlife traffic.

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