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First Solar project approved 

Despite some hanging environmental impacts, San Luis Obispo County supervisors approved a second utility-grade solar project proposed to be built in the Carrizo Plains.

On July 12, county supervisors unanimously denied an appeal of First Solar’s 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm and approved the project with a few modifications to the permit.

Public opinion on the project ranged from exuberant support to firm opposition to a moderate belief that the environmental benefits outweigh the impacts.

“We need to change the way we acquire our energy here and this is an opportunity to do that,” said Supervisor Jim Patterson, whose district includes the California Valley area where the project will be built.

The project was appealed after county planning commissioners approved First Solar’s proposal following four formal hearings. Supervisors also approved on appeal SunPower’s 250-megawatt solar project. That project is being challenged in court.

Some residents voiced concerns that the project encroaches on sensitive habitat and other better sites exist, specifically the Westlands Solar Park in Fresno and King counties.

“My head is reluctantly in favor; my heart is opposed,” one resident said.

However, others believed the environmental benefits outweigh the impacts. Barring a successful court challenge, First Solar expects construction of its facility—460 solar-array groups spread over 3,500 acres—to take three years.

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