Sierra Club slams California PUC for approving 247-MW solar contract

The Sierra Club complained March 12 that the California Public Utilities Commission that day approved a power purchase agreement for the 247-MW Panoche Valley Solar Project with power customer Southern California Edison, even though the club said the project would have an unacceptable environmental impact.

Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said that the commission voted 4-to-1 to approve the power purchase agreement for the “highly controversial” Panoche Valley Solar Project, which is sited on some of the last remaining habitat for several threatened and endangered California species.

“The Panoche Valley is not an appropriate place to develop a solar project,” Corcoran said. “The valley is home to a wide range of threatened and endangered species, including San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, golden eagles, burrowing owls, tiger salamanders, and many others. For many of these species, the Panoche Valley is one of their few remaining habitats, and developing the valley would damage their prospects for survival.

“As California continues its remarkable development of clean energy, our state regulators must also learn from the mistakes made during the last wave of solar projects, which in some cases have caused significant, if unintended, environmental damage. We must learn from those projects and strive to do better. We are disappointed in the CPUC’s decision today, which was a missed opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.

“We are fortunate in California to have a wealth of locations where clean energy can be developed without damaging wild lands and species, including hundreds of thousands of acres that have been identified in the Western San Joaquin Valley.” 

The project has several hurdles remaining. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife will both need to issue “take” permits for harm to threatened and endangered. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will need to issue a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit. And the county of San Benito will need to complete its review process and issue an Environmental Impact Statement, the club noted.

The commission approved a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) eligible power purchase agreement between Southern California Edison (SCE) and Panoche Valley Solar LLC. In October 2014, the utility applied for approval of a 20-year renewable energy power purchase agreement (PPA) with Panoche. The PPA was executed through SCE’s 2013 RPS solicitation.

The commercial operation target date for this photovoltaic project is Jan. 1, 2019. The project is being developed by PV2 Energy LLC. The expected annual generation to be purchased from the project is 666 Gigawatt-hours (GWh). The Panoche facility will interconnect at the Q829 230-kV switching station which connects to Pacific Gas and Electric’s Moss-Panoche/Coburn-Panoche 230 kV transmission line and intersects the project site.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.