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Caught in the path of progress 

Solar projects may surround small residence

Mike Strobridge dreams of relaxing on his Carrizo Plain porch with his daughter, watching golden eagles soar and antelopes play, but two solar energy firms that have optioned neighboring land may spoil his vista. Ausra of Palo Alto has optioned 640 acres to the south. To the west, north and east, 6,000 acres have been optioned by Opti-Solar of Hayward for a project estimated to cost $1 billion. The companies will install thousands of solar panels and mirrors surrounding his property.

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  Strobridge, a single parent, raised pigs and rabbits for 4-H as a kid and won ribbons for showmanship at the Mid-State Fair. He stayed in town after graduating from Atascadero High and learned the auto repair trade from his uncle. Five years ago, he and his father bought G&H Automotive, where he does most of the work himself, as he does on his 40 acres in Carrizo.

Nothing much grows on the land but it is free from distractions and supports plenty of wild life. Strobridge has drilled a well, built an all-weather road, and erected a shop that provides temporary housing. Each improvement during the past seven years waited until he saved the money to do it. The foundation for his house goes in this week.

It will be a 1,900-square-foot single story ranch style with three bedrooms–modest but with big picture windows and porches on three sides. “Everything out there I’ve done myself,” he says in his surprisingly gentle voice. “I don’t have a lot of money. I’ve spent my entire life savings on this.”

“Ausra sent me a brochure last October,” Strobridge recounts. “Honestly I thought it was propaganda. My dad looked it over. I felt like I got kicked in the chest.”

The fact is, he said,“They [the solar generating plants] would be fencing me in. They would all have roaming security. It would be like a prison”

“They’re [Ausra] going to pump 13 gallons a minute 24/7 all year. They’re going to run me dry. If we lose our water, that’s it,” Strobridge continued. Ausra, a solar thermal operation, will use solar energy to generate steam from water from the wells.

Even now with few other wells in the vicinity, Strobridge says his well cuts off after six hours. He imagines it stopping forever once the Ausra wells start pumping.

Strobridge says he has voiced his objections at every public meeting only to be dismissed. “They just say, ‘It’s not going to affect you. Don’t worry.”

Ausra Vice President for Communications Katherine Potter repeated exactly that in an e-mail for this article. “After extensive modeling, preliminary results confirm that water use will not significantly impact neighboring wells,” she asserted. The company is expected to announce plan modifications soon, but water would not be considered not among them.

Opti-Solar appeared this spring when a representative called.

“He said they were interested in buying,” Strobridge says. “I told him it wasn’t for sale. He said they’d like to help me build somewhere else. ‘We’re going to surround you with solar panels,’ he said. It was a strange conversation. He said they didn’t want to make me sad.”

Opti-Solar offered to buy Strobridge’s parcel at $4,000 an acre which is about what he has invested. “That’s OK for farmland, but my parcel has a home,” he responds. “I’ve been there longer than Opti-Solar’s been a company. Where am I going to get 40 acres in San Luis Obispo County for $4,000 an acre?”

Strobridge vowed he would not accept even a sweetened offer. “Not any more,” he said. “I don’t want anything to do with either one of those solar companies. What kind of example would I be setting for my daughter? She loves it there. I don’t want to let her down.”

Opti-Solar’s Jeff Lettes confirmed discussions with Strobridge and said the firm “would still gladly assist him” to find comparable property. Fencing plans are not final, he insisted.

Strobridge sees 10 to 15 pronghorn antelope almost daily, he says. “They come through all three sides Opti-Solar wants to use.” He watches coyotes, foxes and golden eagles, as well.

“There are some really beautiful birds. There’s one golden eagle in particular that hangs out at the Ausra site.”

 



Contact freelancer John McReynolds through the editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com

 

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