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.”


Volunteering

August 11, 2011

Sequoia Riverlands Trust has two volunteer days coming up this month, at Dry Creek Preserve on Tuesday, August 16th and Tuesday, August 30th from 9 am – 11 am. If you choose to volunteer you will be helping our Nursery Tech, Andrew Glazier propagate native plants, focusing on potting elderberry and starting some willows.

We propagate elderberries and willow by taking a ‘cutting’ of a mature plant, then soaking it in water to let the roots grow out before planting it in soil. We take cuttings by cutting off a piece of the mature plant’s branch. So essentially, we make clones of wild plants, grow them in the nursery, and then plant them on the preserve where we took the cutting.

Anyone can volunteer, but you need to bring a liability release form with you. If you are under 18, then you need your parent’s signature. Anyone under the age of 16 needs to be with an adult. We hope to see you at Dry Creek Preserve!

You can download a printable copy of the liability release form here.  RELEASE OF LIABILITY_DCP Work Days_Aug 2011

 


SRT Receives $3,000 grant from the Visalia Times-Delta

June 9, 2011

Sequoia Riverlands Trust would like to thank the Visalia Times-Delta for their generous $3,000 grant through the Gannett Foundation. Local grants such as this are an important investment in the community. The grant will help support SRT’s conservation and education programs in the region.


2010 SRT Accomplishments!

December 20, 2010

Sequoia Riverlands Trust is proud to boast the following accomplishments that we made for conservation in the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley in 2010:

 

James K. Herbert Wetland Prairie Preserve - vernal pool tour

  • Completed a 5-year vernal pool restoration project at the James K. Herbert Wetland Prairie Preserve! Project funded by the Wildlife Conservation Board, Bureau of Reclamation and Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • We secured funding for 814 acres of new ag conservation (3 easements in 3 counties) and look forward to closing the deals in the early part of 2011
  • We are actively negotiating the conservation of 5,000 acres of ranchland, with grants pending on two properties. These conservation properties are part of a 43,000 conservation plan that has been developed by the Southern Sierra Partnership (The Nature Conservancy, California Audubon, Sierra Business Council, Tejon Ranch Conservancy and Sequoia Riverlands Trust
  • 342 volunteers gave more than 1,300 hours of their time to the cause of conservation (380% increase over 2009 – Great job to our dedicated volunteers!).

Students participate in a restoration project at Dry Creek Preserve

  • 868 underserved Tulare County students (grades K-6) attended curriculum-based field trips to Kaweah Oaks Preserve
  • 148 students (grades 7-12) participated in service learning projects for a total of 608 volunteer hours of habitat restoration on SRT preserves
  • 226 teachers of local at-risk youth were trained in curriculum-based environmental education (with a potential to reach more than 6,500 students!)
  • 125 nature-themed lesson plans posted to SRT website
  • 13 nature events took 476 people on guided hikes of SRT conservation land
  • 61% increase in new SRT membership (thank you to our new donors!!)
  • Brought 3 new events (5K Earth Day Trail Run at KOP, landscape photography contest, Kaweah Land & Arts Festival) to the community to collectively engage people in the importance of SRT’s mission to conserve the beauty and productivity of the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley

 

Runners participate in the first 5K Earth Day Trail Run/Walk at Kaweah Oaks Preserve

THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT!


Photo Contest Winners

October 22, 2010

Join us Friday, November 5th from 6-8 p.m at Arts Visalia for an art opening that will feature the winning photographs from SRT’s photography contest, “How Do You View Your Landscape?”. The following photos will be displayed along with paintings by Paul Buxman, renowned plein air painter and farmer who is the featured artist of the exhibit, “Visual Harvest: Paintings by Paul Buxman,” as part of the Kaweah Land & Arts Festival. Don’t miss it!

Jerry Smith, "St. Johns Rope Swing," Grand Prize Winner


Looking Good: SRT Launches New Website!

August 7, 2009

flickr-farmland-vistas-200pxTo tackle the tough financial times challenging us all, Sequoia Riverlands Trust has been working harder than ever.  This website reflects one of the most recent and visible product of those efforts.  Welcome!  We encourage you to check back often for updates on SRT’s latest endeavors and accomplishments!

Please take a tour of the new site and let us know what you think. Better yet, show your support and join us in our online membership drive: recruit new SRT members and earn prizes!  Click here for more details.

Not only does the new website reflect an aesthetic makeover that better matches our “face” with our values and objectives, but the new site is also more informative, more up-to-date, and easier to navigate. We hope you agree.  Among the new features that you may find helpful are:

  • Comprehensive information about our main program areas:  Farmland Conservation, Habitat Conservation and Environmental Education. Learn more about conservation easements, land stewardship practices, standards-based school field trips and our community outreach projects
  • Many opportunities to get informed and stay involved:  You can sign up for our e-newsletter, become a Facebook fan and/or bookmark our blog
  • Related News Current events about conservation topics we all care about
  • SRT Blog:  An online collection of SRT-related news updates, stories, factoids and interesting links. Check back often!
  • Maps:  You will find a map detailing our entire working area—from Fresno County down to Kern County, from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to the Carrizo Plains—as well as an interactive map that highlights features, directions and photos of our six nature preserves
  • Photo Gallery:  Take a virtual tour of our stunning preserves and conservation properties, and check out images from past SRT-hosted events and nature walks