California Solar and The Williamson Act
This Stockton Record story by Alex Breitler highlights an issue that could become more common in California as clean energy gains a higher profile: The Williamson Act, and the impact it has on solar and other projects.
As Breitler notes, The Williamson Act is a voluntary program in which farmers agree to keep their land undeveloped for 10 years in return for tax breaks. About one-third of all the private land in California is enrolled in the program, so odds are the two will sometimes clash - such as they have near Stockton.
The issue is complicated by the fact that The Williamson Act does not specifically address solar, thus the release of this primer by the state. It cites four ways in which solar could be permitted on such property, including declaring it compatible with agriculture.
Which, apparently, is the approach being used in Kings County, where solar proposals are coming in fast. Officials there have determined that solar is compatible where it is appropriate, and proposed legislation would cement that philosophy as state policy.
However, the same bill , according to this Hanford Sentinel story, also directs solar farms to only marginally productive and physically impaired lands. That worries Greg Gatzka, Kings County’s community development director.
The Sentinel story by Eiji Yamashita quotes Gatzka as saying, “The draft language they have come out with …goes far beyond where our policies have. This may even render most of our county possibly unable to house a lot of solar projects by the definitions they are putting in there.”
Kings County offsets the potential loss of farmland by limiting solar projects to 25 to 30 years and requiring a soil-reclamation plan. In addition, the Sentinel story notes, the county requires the protection of farmland somewhere else as a trade off.
How this all shakes out is unknown, but the timing is interesting. It comes when state has passed a 33 percent renewables mandate, and when Gov. Brown, according to this report, is on the verge of appointing a green jobs czar in California.