Tulare County changes solar farm policy

February 28, 2013

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Atwell Island, near Alpaugh, is one of the solar plants covered by the new solar plan approved by the Board of Supervisors. / submitted.

David Castellon, Visalia Times-Delta, Feb 27, 2013

There is less land in unincorporated Tulare County where solar farms can be built after the Board of Supervisors voted to change the county’s policy.

As a result, the 370,250 acres of agriculturally-zoned land in the county where solar farms were unlikely to be permitted before Tuesday’s vote by the supervisors has been increased by an additional 283,7999 acres.

That leaves nearly 188,000 acres of unincorporated agriculturally-zoned land where the county would be likely to allow solar projects.

Those changes are based on recommendations by the county’s Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, a group of farmers and others involved in the agricultural industry that the supervisors asked in December to review the county’s policy on where utility-scale solar farms — those intended to provide energy to regional electrical grids or communities — could be built.

The board’s request was triggered by members of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, who were concerned that the solar policy the supervisors approved in 2010 didn’t do enough to prohibit construction of solar energy operations on prime farmland.

That policy stated that the board would “not necessarily support” prohibiting solar farm construction on prime farmland, and most of the more than 1,900 acres where the county has approved 17 utility-scale solar farms are on non-prime land.

All are in various stages of development, including the 160-acre Atwell Island solar farm near Alpaugh, which has been built and will be the first to go online once Pacific Gas and Electric gives approval, said Mike Washam, the county’s economic development director.

“We are concerned that the non-prime ‘case by case’ [consideration] approach is not yet clearly defined for prime farm lands, and we strongly discourage the county from permitting any solar development on lands that can support viable agriculture production,” states a letter the Farm Bureau sent to the county Planning Commission in September.

The Farm Bureau doesn’t object to building solar farms on non-prime land, where water and soil conditions are so bad that it may not be viable to successfully farm there.

Washam, who also is the county’s liaison to the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, said the group discussed the county’s solar farm policy and recommended changes that included:

• • Solar farms should not be built within the urban growth and development boundaries around each Tulare County’s cities, or in the development boundaries around small communities that the county has designated as “hamlets.”

• Solar farms should be close to electrical grids, corridors for electrical lines, electric sub stations or end users.

• The county shouldn’t support solar farm development on land designated by the State Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program as prime farmland or on land designated as having class 1 soil by the California Natural Resources Conservation Service.

• The county should include land where any permanent crops have been grown in the last 10 years and citrus and olive groves along along Tulare County’s citrus belt — which runs along the east end of the county — as being “constrained” from solar development.

• The county should not support removal of permanent crops to make room for solar projects if there is sufficient water to continue farming, regardless of soil classifications. Analysis that looks at water sources and availability for the land would have to be conducted.

• Analyze the potential effects of a solar farms on neighboring agricultural farms and mitigate them.

Washam said the committee worked with the county Resource Management Agency and the Farm Bureau to develop the recommendations.

“This is more to what I understand is protecting viable farm ground than we had before,” count Supervisor Allen Ishida said before he and his fellow supervisors voted unanimously to make the recommended changes part of the county’s solar policy.

Ishida is a former citrus grower and a long-time advocate of farmland preservation.

“I’m very pleased. Because this really reflects, I think, a much more comprehensive land-preservation policy for the county,” Patricia Stever Blattler, the Farm Bureau’s executive director, said of the board’s vote.

“The biggest change is solar sites will not be supported in farmland planted with permanent crops,” such as grape vines, tree fruits and nuts, Washam said.

He said the the land along the citrus belt was added because citrus and olive trees can grow in poorer-quality soil than row crops, if enough water is available.

Of the 17 solar projects approved by the county, two would not meet the new criteria, but they will not be affected by the policy changes, Washam said. He added that three other solar projects awaiting county approval meet the new criteria.

The solar policy changes don’t affect solar projects within cities or solar projects powering individual buildings, farms, dairies or other businesses in the unincorporated county.

And the changes in solar policy may not have much effect in the future.

“I think we have actually seen the big boom in solar that is going to want to locate here, so I don’t know if these policies, at this point, will have an impact on solar development,” Stever Blattler said.

That boom was driven by a 2008 directive to increase the ratio of California’s electricity coming from from renewable sources, including, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydroelctric power.

Since then, private companies have been working to build solar and wind farms in various parts of the state — including Tulare County — with plans to sell the electricity they generate to electrical utility companies.

And the projects in development across California could generate three times as much electricity as the state needs to reach it 33 percent renewable-energy goal by 2020, said Hector Uriarte, the green jobs coordinator for Proteus, Inc.

The Visalia-based jobs training program has trained more than 450 people in solar installation jobs, and many of them have worked on building solar farms in the south Valley.

“If anything, we are reaching the end of the road for the projects coming through,” Uriarte said, adding that “The ones here are going to go forward.”


Effective Protection in farmland conservation

February 27, 2013

By ADMIN| Published: FEBRUARY 26, 2013

PRESS RELEASE

Former USDA Deputy Secretary and Co-Chair of AGree Jim Moseley Makes Case  for Attaching Compliance to Crop Insurance in Next Farm Bill

Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2013—Over the last 25 years, one of the least-publicized farmland conservation efforts has actually been one of the most effective, says a new report by former USDA Deputy Secretary and Co-Chair of AGree Jim Moseley. Conservation Compliance: A 25-Year Legacy of Stewardship explains how conservation compliance, which has historically required farmers to implement conservation measures in return for federally funded farm support, helped save millions of wetland acres while keeping billions of tons of soil on farms. As a result, millions of marginal, erosion-prone lands have remained healthy and productive.

“Few conservation programs can boast the success rate of conservation compliance,” said Moseley, who served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. “This program has helped farmers save 295 million tons of soil per year and kept an estimated 1.5 million to 3.3 million acres of vulnerable wetlands from being drained. The results of this compact between farmers and taxpayers have been astounding.”

The report urges Congress to reattach conservation compliance to crop insurance premium assistance in the next farm bill reauthorization.  As federal farm policy is updated, it is increasingly likely that some commodity programs will be phased out in favor of a strengthened crop insurance program that is becoming the core component of the farm safety net. Therefore, according to Moseley, it seems essential that conservation compliance also be updated to apply to the crop insurance premium assistance.

“As Congress reauthorizes the farm bill, it is important that the conservation gains made over the last 25 years be retained,” said Moseley. “Unless included in the ongoing farm bill discussions, there is a possibility that, for the first time in a quarter century, conservation compliance provisions will no longer be attached to the largest federal payment program supporting producers.”

In addition to highlighting the successes of conservation compliance, the report dispels several myths about conservation compliance and presents key facts about the program, including:

  • Conservation compliance is a reasonable expectation in exchange for the significant safety-net benefits the public provides for producers.
  • Most producers are already in compliance.
  • Re-attaching crop insurance premiums to conservation compliance will lead to minimal administrative burden.
  • Conservation compliance includes common-sense protections for farmers.
  • Conservation compliance saves money.

Visit http://www.farmbillfacts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Conservation-Compliance-Legacy.pdf to download the full report.


Senator tries out digital trail

October 30, 2012

 

Senator Jean Fuller using her smart phone to read the QR code at Kaweah Oaks Preserve as she takes a tour, October 26, 2012.


Senator visits with Sequoia Riverlands Trust at Kaweah Oaks Preserve

October 30, 2012

Senator Fuller on the Sycamore Trail

SRT was honored to give a tour of Kaweah Oaks Preserve to Senator Jean Fuller (R) Bakersfield last Friday, October 26. Board President Scott Spear and SRT staff talked about conservation easements to keep farmers in business, natural and wildlife habitat projects and our environmental education programs for students. The Senator even tried out our new digital trail by reading the QR codes with her smart phone. Thanks to the Senator for her interest and also her husband Russell and assistant Stephanie Amaral. What a great day!


SRT Challenge Campaign

October 24, 2012

HELP SECURE $20,000 IN MATCHING CHALLENGE FUNDS!

Sequoia Riverlands Trust pursuing protection of 60 acres of critical habitat and public recreation in Three Rivers

KEEP THIS LAND OPEN AND NATURAL!

Longtime Sequoia Riverlands Trust donors Dale Lincoln and Sandy Greenamyer are challenging fellow Three Rivers residents and the Tulare County community to match their $20,000 donation. Their incredibly generous gift will dramatically boost our efforts to protect the lands where we live, work, play, and raise our families.

Dale Lincoln and wife Sandy Greenamyer gave the generous donation and praised conservation efforts by SRT, calling its land protection programs vital for the community.

“Sequoia Riverlands Trust helps us be part of a community working to ensure Three Rivers and the rest of Tulare County will always be the beautiful and extraordinary place that we love. We are confident that our gift will expand education opportunities for children and add essential acreage to Tulare County’s protected landscapes for future generations.”

SRT’s Conservation Director Hilary Dustin says SRT has a number of projects currently underway helping to protect land along river corridors in the Southern Sierra. “We also partner with other agencies to improve access to public lands. This generous gift along with matching funds will allow SRT to expand these efforts.”

The campaign’s first short term goal is to raise $7,000 dollars by the end of October.

According to SRT Executive Director Soapy Mulholland, no donation is too small. “We are grateful for any and every donation that comes so that we can continue to work on behalf of conserving open space, saving farmland and reaching more young people with our environmental education programs.”

You can make a donation with online http://sequoiariverlands.org/support-donate.html or contact Scott Artis at scott.artis@sequoiariverlands.org or 559-738-0211 ext. 108.


Private Homes within our National Parks

October 12, 2012

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Did you know there are private homes popping up inside national parks? Click on the link below to this story that CBS News did and learn why it’s happening more often now and who is trying to do something about it.

http://cbsn.ws/X2lQAu