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California Flats Solar Project to meet new wildlife guidelines

Pacific Southwest Region USFWS

A large solar farm proposed for agriculture land near the line between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties can now move forward following a deal over environmental issues. Construction on the California Flats Solar Project is set to break ground later this year.

When completed about a year after construction begins, it will produce 280 megawatts (MW) and cover more than 2,900 acres on the Jack Ranch property owned by the Hearst Corporation. Currently, it's cattle ranching land in the Cholame Valley that also serves as habitat for a number of rare species.

Several conservation groups voiced concern over the impact an industrial-sized solar project could have here. Garry George with Audubon California said First Solar asked Governor Jerry Brown's office for help in guiding the mediation process.

"The governor's office said, 'Let's see if we can't work out something that we can do on this project that the conservation groups for solar might be able to do together and avoid litigation which might tie off this project,'" said George. 

A statement by First Solar said the outcome of this joint effort is a positive step in bringing this project to life.

"The agreement is a milestone in the development process, and the outcome of this joint effort is a positive step in bringing this important project to life," said Steve Krum, a spokesperson from First Solar. "From the start, First Solar has worked closely with federal, state and local agencies and a broad set of other stakeholders to understand and resolve concerns."

Audubon said the agreement includes protection of Cottonwood Creek and more than a thousand acres of grasslands. California Flats will also fund $10.5 million in land acquisition and conservation.

The solar project is being paid for in-part by Apple Computer which will use a portion of its power output to run its headquarters and Apple Stores throughout the state.