Supervisors in Fresno County, California, approve 18-MW solar farm proposed by California-based Westlands Solar Farms, despite objections from farmers that 90-acre site is prime farmland, protected by Williamson Act

LOS ANGELES , September 1, 2011 () – An 18-megawatt solar farm project was approved in a unanimous vote of the supervisors in Fresno County, California, on Tuesday, despite protests from farmers groups, reported The Fresno Bee on Aug. 30.

The project is proposed by Huron, California-based Westlands Solar Farms LLC, on a 90-acre site that is considered prime Fresno Valley farmland.

Approval by the supervisors overrode conditions on the property established by its Williamson Act contract, under which the land had to be used for agriculture unless used for a greater public benefit, the Bee reported.

Alan Boyce, CEO of Westlands Solar Farms, said the project would stimulate the local economy by creating jobs and would use a small portion of the area’s farmland, in an area that was already impaired by limited water.

The land is being leased by Westlands Solar Farms from a farming company that Boyce partly owns, reported the Bee.

The dry western part of Fresno County is appropriate for solar development, and the proposed plant would be near a transmission facility, noted employees of Westlands Solar Farms, which is a coalition of local property owners, many of whom are farmers.

San Francisco-based PG&E Corp. will purchase all of the output from the project after it begins operating, the Bee reported.

Although several permits are still needed before Westlands Solar Farms can move the project forward, the property’s release from its Williamson Act commitment is seen as the biggest obstacle.

The county’s approval of the project was seen as “a step back” by Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the county Farm Bureau. In light of the vote appearing contrary to the board’s prior decision to protect farmland, he said that more farmland is at risk of being developed for solar power, reported the Bee.

The primary source of this article is The Fresno Bee, Fresno, California, on Aug. 30, 2011.

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