The Westlands Water District is forging ahead with efforts to plan a solar energy park on thousands of acres of poor farmland in Kings County.
The water district is partnering with Westside Holdings LLC to prepare a detailed environmental impact report and master plan for the proposed 24,000-acre Westlands Solar Park. The environmental work sets the stage for private solar companies to build individual projects to generate electricity on farmland the district has earmarked for retirement because of poor drainage and high levels of salt in the groundwater and the soil.
Westside Holdings CEO Bob Dowds said plans to develop solar projects on Westlands' drainage-impaired farmland have been in the works for several years. The California Energy Commission has already identified the Westlands site as a Commercial Renewable Energy Zone, an area suitable for large-scale power production from alternative sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.
The grand scale of the long-range plan is what sets the Westlands development apart from a slew of other solar projects in various stages of planning, construction or operation in the San Joaquin Valley. If built to completion -- and it's a pretty substantial "if" -- the Westlands Solar Park would become the largest solar photovoltaic installation in the U.S., and among the biggest in the world. Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight directly into electricity.
A notice filed by Westlands to notify the state and other agencies of the plans indicates that development is anticipated in 200-megawatt increments over 12 years. At total buildout, the power-generating capacity of the solar park would be about 2,400 megawatts of electricity. That, by some estimates, is enough to meet the electricity needs of about 720,000 households -- and almost 10 times the generating capacity of the 250 MW Agua Caliente project in Arizona, the largest plant currently online in the world.
Correction: reading, a notice filed by Westlands indicates development would be planned in 200 MW increments over 12 years, which would make the 24,000 acre project the largest solar photovoltaic installation in the U.S. if fully developed.