The proposed Westlands Solar Park has been planned as a phased development that will be located on around 24,000 acres of land within the Westlands Water District. This places the development in Fresno and Kings Counties.
The project will be massive when it is complete and will have a maximum generating capacity of 2,400MW. This would far and away make the project the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the world. It is certainly the largest proposed photovoltaic solar power plant in the United States.
Reusing Contaminated Farmland
The reason why the land is available for the creation of solar energy is that it has been contaminated by selenium and salt build up through over-irrigation. The land has been rendered useless for agricultural use. By placing a large solar park on the San Joaquin Valley site it would represent a way of turning a low value piece of land into a highly prized piece of property.
Whereas other major projects come under a lot of criticism from environmentalists who oppose any destruction of the landscape, this one has their support.
According to the Westlands Solar Park website the site has been identified in the states’ Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) as suitable for renewable solar power generation. It is hoped that planned phased developments could continue to be brought online right up to 2025. With an expectation of building the site in 200MW increments each year it will take around 12 years for the project to be brought to completion.
As well as the installation of solar arrays, the project will incorporate related infrastructure improvements such as transmission lines. This has the potential of opening up many thousands of acres within the valley which also have contamination and drainage problems. There is far more potential for the area to become a world leader in the production of solar energy.
Nearby Energy Storage
The project is already sited near the PG&E-owned Helms pumped storage facility. This will help with smoothing out the supply of solar energy which will reduce the need to use gas-powered plants to ensure continuous energy flow.
The incorporation of this new solar power array will help in meeting California’s mandate of generating at least a third of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020 under the Renewables Portfolio Standard.
At this point the required scoping process that is mandated under Californian environmental law has begun. This will cover both the overall plan for the solar park as well as the transmission upgrades that will be required for the project.
Westlands Could Be the Answer
During the years of opposition to solar developments proposed for the desert areas of the state, environmentalists would often use Westlands as an example of a viable alternative. The location provides the state with a way of creating large utility-scale solar projects without destroying wildlife habitats.
The sticking point could be the development of the transmission infrastructure which will be required to support the creation of such large-scale electricity.