February 1, 2023
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Editorial: Cuyama solar array reignites region’s energy prospects


Santa Barbara County’s ability to embrace a large-scale energy project of any kind got a major test on July 22, when its planning commission heard testimony about the proposed 40-megawatt Cuyama Solar Project.

Developed by First Solar, which previously owned the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm project in San Luis Obispo County, this project would modestly improve the energy-generating capacity of Santa Barbara County.

It would tie into a substation owned and operated by PG&E in Cuyama. Proximity to the substation and PG&E transmission lines makes this project particularly attractive.

The project has been endorsed by the environmental nonprofit Community Environmental Council, which believes it represents “the best chance for utility-scale solar energy” in the county and “the only major energy alternative to fossil fuel electrical generation” currently on the drawing boards.

The facility would power about 16,000 California homes, or a city of about 40,000 people.

In recent years, Santa Barbara County has nixed a wind farm near Lompoc, raising questions about whether any energy project that is of utility scale can make it through the planning process.

Significantly, at the July 22 hearing, the planning commission gave the project the go-ahead by unanimous vote, setting the stage for what should be a relatively smooth approval by the Board of Supervisors in September.

In the past, the region’s alternative energy fortunes have had a mixed result. Carpinteria-based Clipper Windpower’s sale and subsequent shutdown dealt the region a blow on the innovation front, and SolarWorld’s decision to shut its Camarillo panel plant cost jobs and removed a signature manufacturing plant from our lineup of resources.

Significantly, it was San Luis Obispo County that stepped up, giving the green light to Topaz and the nearby NRG-Sunpower California Valley Solar Ranch on private property on the Carrizo Plain.

Moving the Cuyama Solar Project forward is a small step indeed for overall energy efficiency for our region. But it is a giant step for Santa Barbara County, whose regulators have now put the county back in the game when it comes to energy economic development initiatives.

The Board of Supervisors should take the Cuyama Solar Project up as soon as possible and get this project moving with deliberate speed.

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial stated that First Solar owns the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County. In fact, in 2012 First Solar sold that project to MidAmerican Solar, which provided the financing for its construction.]