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Op/ed: Central Coast leads the way with solar energy, green tech jobs

By   /   Friday, February 7th, 2014  /   Comments Off

Anyone who thinks the clean energy economy isn’t working clearly needs to visit the Central Coast.

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By Lois Capps

Rep. Lois Capps

Rep. Lois Capps

Anyone who thinks the clean energy economy isn’t working clearly needs to visit the Central Coast.

Thanks to both federal and private investments, Central Coast solar projects are powering hundreds of thousands of homes throughout California — and more are on the way.

Last month, I had the opportunity to tour the recently completed 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch and the soon-to-be-completed 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm outside of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County.

Boosted by a $1.2 billion federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, California Valley Solar Ranch — currently one of the world’s largest operating solar facilities — was completed last October. It is already providing clean power to an estimated 100,000 California homes. That’s equivalent to removing 63,500 cars from the roads. Topaz Solar Farms, meanwhile, is already generating 300 megawatts of clean solar power.

When completed, it will generate enough power for 160,000 homes, equivalent to removing another 73,000 cars from the roads.

And while reducing our carbon footprint is vital, going solar is also paying off for our economy by creating hundreds of local jobs and spurring economic growth. Construction at California Valley Solar Ranch created 700 jobs over a two-year period and generated an estimated $315 million in local economic development. Similarly, the construction of Topaz Solar Farms will mean $192 million in compensation for roughly 400 construction workers over a three-year period. The economic output for area suppliers will be an estimated $52 million, and the project will generate $14 million in sales taxes during construction and up to $400,000 per year in new property tax revenues.

Meanwhile, small businesses on the Central Coast are also seeing the positive long-term benefits from going solar.

Michael and Shannon Larrabee, owners of Central Coast Distributing in Santa Maria, have installed the largest commercial solar system in the city on the roof of their recycling center. Each year, the Larrabees not only process more than 2.2 million pounds of recyclable material, but their solar systems generate virtually all the power needed to operate the facility.

The tens of thousands of dollars the Larrabees save every year in energy costs can now be used to grow their business, create jobs, or invest in other areas — all things that will help buoy our local economy.

Moreover, many Central Coast businesses have earned support from the federal government to lead the development of the latest and greatest clean energy technologies. For example, San Luis Obispo-based Renewable Power Conversion received nearly $1 million from the Department of Energy last year to develop the next generation of DC-to-AC solar power converters.

Projects like these show how the Central Coast is leading the way in solar and clean energy technology, demonstrate the huge potential of renewable energy in working to lower our carbon footprint, and highlight the important positive economic impacts of being a clean energy hub.

So whether it is small businesses investing to make their own companies leaner and greener, or large solar companies building facilities that take hundreds of thousands of homes off the grid, I remain as committed as ever to strengthening our investments in these clean, renewable energy technologies. This is the only way we can continue to lower our dependence on fossil fuels and increase job creation and economic growth along the Central Coast.

• Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents California’s 24th Congressional District. Contact her through her website, capps.house.gov.

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