A solar farm where cows now graze south of Lockeford received the blessing of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Supervisors voted 4-1 to allow Bear Creek Solar to construct a solar farm on 20 acres on the east side of Jack Tone Road south of Victor Road. The vote overturns the county Planning Commission's 3-2 denial at its Sept. 6 meeting.
Stockton land-use attorney Steve Herum, representing Bear Creek Solar and applicant Christopher Little of Minnesota, said that Little will sell electrical power from the project to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
The Board of Supervisors approved the solar farm despite the protests of Ruben Cortez and Darrell Horton, who live across Jack Tone Road from the proposed solar farm site.
Cortez and Horton, who live in separate residences, told the board that they enjoy drinking their morning coffee, looking at the cows now occupying the future solar project and gazing at the foothills. They fear they'll see the solar project instead.
Herum said the solar farm will be landscaped so people won't have to look at the panels.
"He's a local hired gun," Cortez said of Herum after Tuesday's hearing. "He can make a Porta-Potty sound good."
In an interview after the board meeting, Little said he plans to construct the solar project in the first or second quarter of 2013. Construction will take three months, he said.
To landscape the property, Little said, he will hire a landscape architect who is familiar with the soil and weather conditions in the area. Little constructs solar projects throughout the nation, Herum said.
Supervisor Ken Vogel, who represents the Lodi-Lockeford area, voted against the project because he'd like to wait until the county adopts a policy governing solar farms.
Vogel said he thought that solar farms need to be near a tall transmission line, but there aren't any transmission lines planned for the Lockeford-area project.
Katie Patterson, program director for the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation, told supervisors that the Farm Bureau considers the term "solar farm" a misnomer because the project won't produce food or clothing materials. Instead, the Farm Bureau is referring to the project as a "solar facility," Patterson said.
Farm Bureau officials believe that the county should work with them to develop a county policy governing solar facilities, Patterson said. Although Herum said the 23-acre site is not land of "statewide importance" and is fallow at the moment, Patterson said it would be a good location to have a small agricultural operation.
Supervisor Carlos Villapudua said he was concerned about a developer from Minnesota coming to San Joaquin County to build a solar project.
"If we approve it, will you use local labor?" Villapudua asked Little.
The general contractor might be from outside California, Little said, but it makes sense to hire local subcontractors.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.