Butte County officials are hoping to streamline the path enabling a new, sun-loving “crop” to join a Butte County landscape dominated by almond, walnut and olive orchards. Wednesday evening in Oroville the public had its first opportunity to weigh in.
The plants, officials say, will generate jobs and help California wean itself from fossil fuels. The crop isn’t something you eat; though in most cases, the plants are considered green. It’s electricity — generated at large solar power plants.
Meeting in front of just over a dozen interested citizens and representatives of local solar power firms, county planning officials unveiled a proposal removing many of the delays, guesswork and expense faced by investors and entrepreneurs who may one day construct large sized solar plants in the county.
Tim Snellings is director of the Department of Development Services.
“In other counties it’s taking years to get through the process, it’s taking millions of dollars to do the environmental impact report, and all the associated studies, and at the end of the process, they don’t know if they are going to get approved or not,” Snellings said. “So there’s tremendous uncertainty that’s in that process as well as cost and time. That’s what we’re trying to tackle with this project.”
Using grant funds provided by Sacramento, officials have launched efforts to change the county’s zoning code to grease the skids for grid-connected solar power plants in appropriate parts of the county. With a statewide goal of sourcing a third of California’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, solar arrays are going to become more commonplace.
Snelling and others said prime agricultural land will be off the table. Hilly and mountainous areas would likely be considered impractical. That leaves comparatively marginal foothill adjacent grazing land, mostly east of Highway 99. While some attendees had concerns that acres of photo-voltaic cells will mar the landscape, most were by and large receptive. Officials expect to be working on the plan, officially called PowerButte, through the end of next year. A second public meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening in Chico at the Lakeside Pavillion in the California Park subdivision. It gets underway at 5:30.