02:00 PM

Panoche Valley Solar Farm threatens California's heartland

Defenders of Wildlife says the project is a good idea but sited in the wrong place

HOLLISTER, Cailf. (07/22/2010) -

Some of central California’s most productive farmland lies in the Panoche Valley, a lush grassland where ranchers and farmers grow food for local and regional markets and share their fields with endangered wildlife.

But soon a massive solar power plant may supplant agricultural lands here – destroying habitat for critically endangered kit foxes, blunt-nosed lizards and a variety of other imperiled wildlife – as the San Benito County Planning Commission held a hearing yesterday to take public comment on a draft study of the proposed project.

Defenders of Wildlife supports renewable energy development, but urged solar-energy developer Solargen and state regulatory officials to move the 4,885-acre solar project to other lands better suited for this kind of industry.  For example, there are more than 30,000 acres of vacant, degraded agricultural lands in the Westlands Water District in neighboring Fresno and Kings counties, where past intensive agriculture has left a toxic legacy rendering these lands useless for farming.

“The Panoche Valley is literally one of the three last refuges for endangered San Joaquin kit foxes,” said Pamela Flick with the Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group working closely with federal and state officials on how to site wildlife-friendly renewable energy facilities. “A massive industrial solar power plant that would destroy half of the Valley floor would threaten the kit foxes’ very survival.”

In addition to the Panoche Valley project, two other industrial-scale solar power plants are slated for the Carrizo Plain – another one of the three kit fox core recovery areas, presenting a threat to two of the last three core kit fox areas.

Panoche Valley Solar Farm is still in the early planning phase – only a Draft Environmental Impact Report has been issued for the project, which means that regulatory officials could move or change the project.

“For solar energy to be successful, it needs to be in the right places that avoid impacts on environmentally sensitive lands and habitat,” Flick said. “Degraded agricultural lands in the Central Valley offer some very promising possibilities for this project and would avoid the worst impacts. I don’t know why the developers aren’t looking there first.”


Learn more about Defenders' work on renewable energy.


Pamela Flick, Defenders of Wildlife, (916) 313-5800

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.