Three transmission projects will be needed for new solar facility in California

Construction of the proposed Westlands solar park on 24,000 acres of farmland near Fresno, Calif., will require the construction of three new transmission segments to accommodate the facility’s anticipated maximum output of 2,400 MW of solar generation.

According to the notice of preparation of a draft environmental impact report (EIR), the Westlands Water District, headquartered in Fresno, Calif., will study three transmission corridors as it prepares the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The water district is the lead agency preparing the EIR.

The additional transmission lines, comprising three segments of new transmission to upgrade one existing pathway and create two additional pathways to export the solar power, would be built as needed as the generation projects progress, a spokesperson for the water district told TransmissionHub April 1.

New transmission to be studied will include an 11-mile, 230-kV transmission line running parallel to the existing Henrietta-Gates transmission corridor, connecting a new substation planned for construction near the project’s northern boundary and running southward to the Gates substation near the project’s southern boundary. The new transmission line could run along either the north or the south side of the existing corridor, and both alternatives will be analyzed in the EIR, according to the notice of preparation.

A longer stretch of new transmission would upgrade central California’s critical Path 15.

A new 500-kV transmission line would extend approximately 87 miles from the Gates substation to the Los Banos substation near the city of Los Banos, Calif. The new transmission line would run generally parallel to the existing Path 15 corridor from the Gates substation to a point near the city of Huron, Calif., where it would turn north through the project area to connect with the Helm substation. From the Helm substation, it would turn west and follow alongside the existing Panoche-Helm transmission corridor to rejoin Path 15 about four miles south of the Pacheco substation. From there, the alignment would run adjacent to Path 15 to the Los Banos substation.

The third project would create the Helm to Gregg transmission corridor with a new 500-kV line extending approximately 31 miles to connect the Helm substation near the city of San Joaquin to the Gregg substation located north of Fresno. In addition to providing a pathway for power from the new solar project, this transmission corridor is intended to provide for the growing electrical demand in the Fresno area and would also facilitate the transmission of adequate power to the upstream Helms Pumping Plant to allow the utilization of the full potential of the facility for pumped storage, according to the notice of preparation.

All the substations involved are operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG).

At this time, no cost estimates have been established for the transmission elements, the spokesperson said.

An EIR scoping meeting will be held April 9 at the Westlands Water District’s offices in Fresno. Interested parties can provide comments in person at the meeting, or submit comments by April 15 to the water district.

The solar generation facility will consist exclusively of photovoltaic solar arrays and associated electrical equipment and interconnections, along with support facilities, substations, and other utilities infrastructure. The project will be built on drainage-impaired farmland that will be retired from irrigated agricultural use, providing what the notice or preparation called an “economically viable and environmentally beneficial reuse of the site’s physically impaired agricultural soils.”

The project area is in the Westlands Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), the only renewable energy zone in central California designated through the California Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI). It is also the CREZ with the strongest levels of support from both environmental and agricultural communities, according to the solar project’s website.

Initial development planning estimates indicate that phased projects exceeding 2,400 MWs of solar power could be developed before 2025. In addition, the California RETI estimated that the project’s location is suitable for renewable generation up to 5,000 MW.

Early Phase 1 generation projects are expected to begin operation as early as the 2013 to 2015 time frame, according to the project website. Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects and commercial partnerships are confidential, according to the developer, but are focused on large-scale photovoltaic generation systems greater than 100 MW in size for each phase.

Calls seeking additional information from the developer of the Westlands Solar Park were not returned by press time April 1.