published on May 11, 2017 - 11:44 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

An application to build a 2,527-acre, 250-megawatt solar farm is being processed by Kings County in what would be the largest photovoltaic project in the county.

Called Westlands Aquamarine, the plan being proposed by applicant Westlands Solar Park is about eight miles southwest of Lemoore.

The project is the first to move to the permitting stage in what the applicant has predicted will be the largest master-planned clean energy park in the U.S. with more than 20,000 acres of drainage-impaired farmland designated for the development of solar energy and storage generation. Virtually all of the land in this part of Kings County is in the Westlands Water District and slated to be retired due to high salinity and selenium contamination.

So far Westlands Solar Park has built a ”demonstration” two-megawatt facility with power being sold to the City of Anaheim. Developers are working to construct another 20-megawatt solar farm in the area as well.

But this latest application is a major step-up to the mega-solar project level — one of many expected to be built at the crossroads of the California grid system near Interstate 5. Westlands Aquamarine could be operational by 2020.

This past week the Kings Board of Supervisors signed an agreement for indemnification for the county and reimbursement of extraordinary costs with Westlands Aquamarine LLC relating to a conditional use permit for its commercial solar energy facility.

Westlands Solar Park representative Josh Martin says California is moving to more renewables, fueled not just by policy but also a dramatic lowering of costs to build the modules that “will benefit not just this part of the state but all the ratepayers.”

Investors in the Westlands Solar Park, about a decade in the planning, now include the capital firm CIM, which joined the project in 2014 and founders Westside Assets of Visalia. Developers estimate the rural industrial park could develop up to 2000 megawatts, equivalent to Diablo Canyon’s nuclear power plant’s output now being retired.

In presentations to developers, utilities and regulators, the investment team has made the case that the location and setting for the project makes sense in part because the solar resource is abundant, the state grid system passes through nearby and there are fewer impacts to species, unlike the state’s desert regions. With so much of Westlands Water District no longer fit to farm, it is no wonder that this sprawling district may see 6,500 megawatts worth of solar projects in coming years.

The big water district is working to publish a draft of a major project environmental review in the works now for two years.

The latest solar count for Kings County is impressive —1,424 megawatts of planned solar projects on 14,000 acres built or undergoing permitting through April.

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