The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has granted an appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of the Bear Creek Solar project.
The 4-1 vote comes after the Commission’s staff recommended approval of the project saying it had no significant environmental impacts.
The Planning Commission earlier voted 3-2 to deny the project on twenty acres on North Jack Tone Road near Victor Road just east of Lodi. One of the key opponents along with neighbors was the San Joaquin Farm Bureau which wants to preserve farmland.
“We only have so much of the resource to grow the food and fiber for this community and we just can’t build another acre of that somewhere else,” said the Farm Bureau’s Katie Patterson.
Solar panels are no stranger to California farmland. The state accounts for a quarter of all the solar projects in the nation built on agricultural land.
Morada Produce in Linden built solar arrays in their parking lot about two years ago.
“It accounts for about 60% of the electricity we use. It’s the right thing to do,” said company owner Skip Foppiano.
But those solar panels were built in a parking lot, not on productive ag land.
The Farm Bureau says farms also produce a renewable resource, one that employs more people than a solar facility and is better for the health of the $2 billion county farm economy. It doesn’t like to refer to the facilities as solar farms.
“We can’t wear them and we can’t eat them so we have to treat these facilities as what they are, they’re utilities,” said Patterson.
Farm interests say power production facilities goes counter to the Williamson Act, the landmark legislation that seeks to preserve farmland in the face of urban development. Despite today’s vote, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau says it wants to develop a process that develops better guidelines on where to place future facilities.
“We have to have those conversations now to allow businesses to know what are rules are that we play by,” said Patterson.
Patterson says planners have to consider sites like large parking lots at big box stores which can accommodate solar panels and provide shade for cars rather than productive agricultural land that can’t be replaced.