SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A solar project that would have erected 1.2 million shiny solar panels over four square miles of remote Central California range will be cut sharply in size, under an agreement last week with environmental groups that are concerned about the impact to endangered wildlife.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that New York-based Con Edison Development agreed to build 130 megawatts of solar panels in San Benito County’s remote Panoche Valley. That was down from the initial plan of 399 megawatts, which would have produced enough power for roughly 65,000 homes.
Environmental groups had sued after county officials approved the project, saying the county had not done enough to protect endangered species including the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and tri-colored blackbird.
Under the new plans, Con Edison will also build a smaller solar project of no more than 117 megawatts hundreds of miles to the south, at a less environmentally sensitive site near the Mexico border.
Con Edison and the Sierra Club, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife environmental groups called their deal a victory for renewable energy and wildlife.
“As we work toward lowering carbon pollution, it’s critical that new clean energy development is not done at the expense of endangered animals and their habitat,” said Sarah Friedman, a senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Los Angeles.
County supervisors in San Benito County were not included in the settlement talks. They called themselves livid at the loss of millions in dollars in tax revenue they’d been told to expect when they approved the bigger version of the project in 2010.
“This would have generated much-needed revenue,” county Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “All you have to do is drive down there and see the conditions of our roads. We have minimal amounts of public safety. This was going to be a big thing, but the rug was pulled out from under us.”