Solar Project is Approved by Fresno
by Marc Benjamin
I never agreed with my land being wrapped in 110-foot poles.
-- Jacob Evans, owner of True Organic Pastures
Fresno County supervisors supported a new solar project despite an appeal by a neighboring property owner who said the facility would interfere with plans he had for his land.
In November, the planning commission voted 8-0 to support the solar farm plan, which is on 183 acres about 5 miles south of San Joaquin. Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday to reject the appeal.
The appeal made by Jacob Evans, owner of True Organic Products, opposed towers that will be built to transmit electricity from the plant to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. lines.
Evans said the towers would surround his property, on which he planned to build an airstrip. He said the company has customers nationwide and continues to grow – from six employees 11 years ago to 90 year-round employees today – and he wants the airstrip for customers to use.
"I never agreed with my land being wrapped in 110-foot poles," he said.
Evans suggested that the tower transmission lines be moved underground. But officials with Solar Frontier, the company overseeing the project, said that would add time and significant costs to the project.
County staff said there is no land-use application for an airstrip on Evans' property.
The solar project will produce 20 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply power to about 20,000 homes.
Stephen Velyvis, a lawyer for Solar Frontier, said an airstrip near San Joaquin could easily serve Evans' customers.
David Britz, who sold the property to Evans, said the adjacent site is perfect for solar because it has no water allocation, is high in alkali and can't be farmed.
Moving the power lines underground wasn't included as an option in environmental documents, and adding it to such a study would take months, said Lance Mobley, project manager for Solar Frontier.
Mobley said putting lines underground would be costly and time-consuming, and his company has schedules to meet to sell power to utilities.
Mobley said Solar Frontier "never knew about an airstrip; we never knew this was part of their plans."
Velyvis said since an airport has not been permitted or proposed, the solar project will have no impact on neighboring properties.
Supervisors also discussed developing ideas in cooperation with solar companies and establishing additional fees to site solar projects. County planning staff was asked to return in 90 days with an ordinance that could include a per-acre fee to mitigate project effects.
Solar project applicants now pay permit application fees and financial assurances for cleanup and other required activities if a project is deactivated.
Supervisors also approved a construction bid for a mental health crisis facility. The 11,700-square-foot project is on 1.2 acres on the University Medical Center campus in southeast Fresno. The base bid was approved for $4.6 million to Zumwalt Construction. The project is paid for through a combination of mental health grants.
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