420-acre solar farm proposed near Avenal
420-acre Solar Farm Proposed Near Avenal
By Eiji Yamashita
Avenal’s motto “Oasis in the Sun” didn’t go unnoticed by green energy developers who drove across California last year looking for a place to put their next solar farm.
A Japanese-owned company is now looking to build a 39-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm on a 420-acre spread of private farmland on the Westside foothills near Avenal — a project that could power about 7,000 homes at its peak output.
Eurus Energy plans to build hundreds of solar arrays comprising some 39,000 photovoltaic panels on land it had leased from a private property owner. The site is just outside the Avenal city limits, five miles west of Interstate 5 and 1.5 miles northeast of the Avenal State Prison, according to an application for a conditional use permit filed with the Kings County Community Development Department.
“As we we’ve been looking for sites throughout Central California, we found Avenal. It has a great solar intensity there, and it is also an area that has difficulty with water resources,” said David Tomlinson, project manager for Eurus’ Avenal solar farm. “This type of solar farm uses very little water, so the areas in the Central Valley with water shortage represents an opportunity to produce local, domestic resource.”
The solar farm application was filed as two side-by-side projects under two limited liability partnerships — 180-acre Sun City for 20 megawatts and 240-acre Sand Drag for 19 megawatts. Both projects will be integrated into the existing Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s power grid.
Sun City LLC and Sand Drag LLC are part of Avenal Solar Holdings, a San Diego-based subsidiary of Eurus, which is owned jointly by Tokyo Electric Co. and Toyota Group. The move to break up the project into two is driven by potential constraints in financial markets, Tomlinson said. “It gives you the flexibility to finance one project or the other,” he said. According to Eurus’ application, construction could begin next month and be completed in early November, when the project is scheduled to come on line. A permit for the multi-million-dollar project awaits a public hearing and a decision by the county Planning Commission on March 15.
The Avenal project is the second utility-scale solar farm ever proposed within Kings County, signaling high interest by renewable energy developers who see the region — which boasts 300 days of sunshine — as an ideal place to invest. Another photovoltaic project is in the works for Corcoran. A similar project by French-based enXco is in the works for Corcoran. The Avenal project went through an initial study and was found to have little impact on the environment. “It won’t impact the community very much, other than the aesthetics,” said Jeremy Kinney, a county planner. “The water is going to come from the city, if they choose to buy the water from them. Otherwise, they will drill a well on site.”
Water usage is minimal, Kinney says. The project is expected to use 800,000 gallons of water per year — an amount used by six average homes each year — to clean the panels, according to the application. Because the project site is identified as a kit fox migration route, the company will be required to build wildlife-friendly fencing around the project to ensure safe passage of the endangered species across the property, Kinney said. Of the 420 acres of farmland, only 63 acres would be converted to the solar farm. The remaining 357 acres would be available for dry farming. If the permit is not extended, solar arrays will be removed from the area after the 25-year life of the project to allow the entire property to return to agricultural production, Kinney said.
During the course of construction, the project is expected to create up to 200 jobs, and once in operation, it will hire three to five full-time employees, Tomlinson said. A high percentage of those jobs will be local, he said. Also, the company will periodically hire a team of 10 to 30 individuals for facility maintenance, he said.