September 26, 2022
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Solar projects face wildlife issues

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It took an economic collapse to thin the number of large solar energy projects eyeing San Luis Obispo County’s Carrizo Plain from three to two. But the remaining solar farms face a formidable, if more diminutive, challenger before breaking ground: the San Joaquin kit fox.

First Solar and SunPower are seeking approval to build respective 550-megawatt and 250-megawatt panel-based solar energy plants on the remote stretch of hill-enclosed flatland in southeastern SLO County. In November, another company, Ausra, sold its 177-megawatt solar thermal plant to First Solar when it shifted its focus to technology instead of development amid a tough economy.

First Solar shelved the Ausra plant — the steam-and-turbine-based technology proposed differs widely from First Solar’s panel-based approach — and has said it will use the acquired land to make its plant more sensitive to wildlife. The animals are a major environmental concern at Carrizo because it’s the last remaining undisturbed grassland in Central California and home to several species, including  the kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and the San Joaquin ground squirrel, for whom the plain is a final holdout.

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