Years of drought and strict water allocations in Colusa have caused some rural residents to severely curtail their farming operations or forgo it all together.
Because of this, Richard Mora, a local landowner, said he is currently working to convert his rice operation into a productive solar farm.
“I haven't been able to farm rice here for the past two years due to the water situation,” explained Mora. “Solar could be a good alternative to conventional farming for me.”
The concept of solar farming in the United States isn’t new. It started in the 1980s on the Carrizo Plain of San Luis Obispo County in Southern California. According to the California Energy Commission, the state now hosts 776 solar power plants that generate approximately 17.3% of its energy.
With utility rates on the rise, a slew of alternative energy companies are again looking to expand their reach and Colusa County has made the list. For the past several years, organizers of the Janus Solar Project have been working to get their solar farm greenlit by Colusa County. The Janus Solar Project would consist of approximately 196,000 solar Photovoltaic (PV) modules, security gates, protection systems, batteries, and energy storage facilities on a 1,023.9 acre parcel of land located approximately 6.5 miles southwest of Williams at 1958 and 1961 Spring Valley Road.
This land is currently listed as private, occupying three separate parcels, all of which have traditionally been used for cattle grazing. Preliminary topography reports claimed that the land ranges from relatively flat to gently rolling hills with elevation changes of approximately 150 feet. Construction on this property is projected to occupy 650 acres of the designated 1,023.9 conjoined parcel.
In the fall of 2021, Colusa County opened up a 45-day public comment period to be used and considered during the drafting of the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR). A total of nine responses were submitted including one from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Conservation.
Complaints and concerns ranged from the visual impact of the panels, to decreasing home values, fire safety, dust pollution, noise pollution, traffic, and impacts to migrating waterfowl among other species. Proper drainage and disturbances to groundwater were also brought up, including the potential for further expansion, future energy storage projects, and the general loss of agricultural land.
“It's like they're not seeing the bigger picture here,” said Mora. “I think the benefits outweigh the cons.”
Most of these concerns seem to have been addressed in the final EIR statement that was issued on Feb. 3. However, the exact implications of this project in this area have yet to be determined. Stories are now being run across the country about the proper disposal of expiring panels and what to do about their accumulation.
The industry standard for most solar panels' lifespans is 25 to 30 years, while some last longer. According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, solar panel waste can include heavy metals such as silver, lead, arsenic and cadmium that, at certain levels, may be classified as hazardous waste. Dumping solar panels into landfills can potentially lead to hazardous chemical leaching and polluted groundwater. This issue did not appear to be raised by any of the Colusa residents in response to the proposed solar project, but those being represented by Clark & Nelson Attorneys at Law did address the fiscal impacts that the project could bring to the local area.
“It does not appear that the project will provide any significant revenue source to either the County of Colusa or to the City of Williams. However, it goes without saying that the project will have impacts to county and city roadways, fire and emergency responders, drainage improvements, law enforcement amongst others,” a letter from the residents said. “There is no analysis as to the economic benefits that would come to the County of Colusa or the City of Williams, nor is there any analysis of the economic costs to the County of Colusa and City of Williams. The citizens of Colusa County and the decision makers should be fully advised of impacts upon public agencies and particularly the fiscal impacts that will result from this project.”
The Colusa County Planning Commission expects to hold a public hearing on the final environmental impact report for the Jaus Solar Project on April 5 starting at 9 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors Chambers located at 546 Jay St., Suite 108, in Colusa. The meeting is open to the public.
Greg Plucker, the community development director for Colusa County, said the county also hopes to have a better economic study to ensure that both the county and city are being supported enough to afford whatever extra services this project might entail. According to Plucker, the Janus Solar Project, if approved, could have the potential to financially benefit some local parks and recreation programs.
For information about the Janus Solar Project, visit countyofcolusa.org/996/Janus-Solar-Project.