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November 23, 2010 > County adopts ordinance for commercial solar facilities

County adopts ordinance for commercial solar facilities

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Lingxia Meng

Anticipating the growing number of commercial solar energy facilities in California, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved amendments to the County Zoning Ordinance to provide development standards for solar energy facilities including thermal power systems and photovoltaic (PV) panel systems plants.

"The new ordinance is a great step forward in the County's sustainability efforts," said Supervisor Don Gage, Chairperson of the County's Housing, Land Use, Environment & Transportation Committee. "The provisions will guide development of the commercial solar facilities while protecting the landscape and wildlife in the area where applications for such facilities are expected in the future."

The new ordinance provides size categories for a commercial solar facility and requires compliance with the Williamson Act and the County's Viewshed and Hillsides policies. The ordinance also provides a streamlined permitting process for smaller commercial solar facilities (less than eight acres in size) in certain parts of the County that have fewer environmental constraints. Other provisions include a 30 ft. height requirement for a structure; requirement for decommissioning; design of facilities to allow for wildlife habitat and passage; and drainage protection.

In 2009, the Governor signed an Executive Order requiring energy providers in California to meet a 33 percent renewable energy target by 2020. Considerable effort is required to reach this goal. Currently, only 14 percent of Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) retail electricity sales are generated with renewable power.

In California, many large PV and solar thermal facilities are proposed and under development in the southeastern part of the state. These facilities cover more than 300,000 acres and are expected to produce approximately 24,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity over their useful lives. A two MW system was recently constructed in Alameda County and a proposed 420 MW system in San Benito County is under review. The Santa Clara County Office of Planning has received several informal inquiries about development of commercial solar facilities although no formal application has been submitted.

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