Panoche Valley Solar Project to be Downsized

Through a settlement with California environmentalist groups, nearly half of the solar development's capacity will move to the Imperial Valley as a measure to protect the Panoche valley’s endangered species.  

Panoche Valley Solar Project
Panoche Valley Solar Project

Panoche Valley Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Development Inc., entered into a settlement agreement with three environmental groups: the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, as well as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) concerning the size and location of a solar project currently underway in California’s Panoche Valley. Specifically, the agreement concerns the relocation of a portion of a contentious large solar project planned for San Benito County at a site in Imperial County close to the border of Mexico.

Originally, 247 megawatts of solar generation were planned for the Panoche Valley site, but 100 megawatts will be moved to Imperial County, as developing there will have less impact on threatened and endangered species and their habitat. The relocation of that portion of the solar farm is subject to approval by the Southern California Edison (SCE) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The settlement will also clear up several legal challenges brought against the project by the environmental groups.

Environmentalists vs. big solar

The Panoche Valley Solar Project was proposed in 2009 and would have impacted almost 5,000 acres of uniquely important habitat. The settlement will reduce the size of the project in the Panoche Valley to slightly more than 1,300 acres and permanently conserve roughly 26,418 acres in and around the valley.

The environmental groups allege that the site has the last intact, yet unprotected, grasslands in the San Joaquin Valley and is home to many rare species including the giant kangaroo rat, the San Joaquin kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. Furthermore, the valley is designated an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the National Audubon Society and Birdlife International, due to the grasslands, which provide essential habitat for myriad resident and migratory bird species. These species have already been greatly affected by the expansion of housing developments, agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and drought.

“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. The Panoche Valley is (a) critical habitat for three highly endangered species, and the development throughout the valley as originally planned would have been devastating. This settlement agreement came about after years of work to preserve the endangered wildlife and delicate habitat in this valley,” Sarah Friedman, the Sierra Club’s senior campaign representative for Beyond the Coal Campaign, said in a prepared statement.

“Con Edison Development’s leadership and the environmental groups deserve a lot of credit for opening a dialogue with the Department and asking whether it was better to negotiate and collaborate than litigate. Now these lands will be conserved in perpetuity for some of California’s rarest animals without a loss of one megawatt. This settlement shows that it is possible to balance the environment and the economy to achieve ambitious renewable energy goals” added Charlton Bonham, director of CDFW.

Image courtesy of Panoche Valley Solar