California Flats Solar Project Completed On Hearst Cattle Ranch


First Solar Inc. and Capital Dynamics have announced the commercial operation of the 280 MW AC California Flats Solar Project.

The project is located on approximately 2,900 acres of land within the Jack Ranch, owned by Hearst, near the border of San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties. It is fully contracted under two long-term power purchase agreements serving both utility and corporate renewable customers.

The project partners placed significant emphasis on co-locating the project with one of the U.S.’ largest working cattle ranches while minimizing the environmental impact of construction. Ranch employees worked in tandem with the construction and operation teams, with input from stakeholders, to assess and plan the development; as a result, the facility has a very low visual impact and cannot be seen from any public roads, the partners note.

In addition, the project supports and complements the sustainable cattle operation of the ranch, which provides grass-fed beef to Whole Foods Market’s Southern Pacific region.

“The California Flats Solar Project helped us meet our goal of finding a sustainable solution to keep the 73,000-acre Jack Ranch intact as a historic, working cattle ranch using traditional and time-proven ranching methods for our grass-fed Hearst Ranch Beef program,” says Steve Hearst, vice president and general manager of Hearst’s Western properties. “Countless hours have been invested by Hearst and our partners in bringing this sizable, complex project to fruition and ensuring it operates seamlessly with our cattle operation and ranch environment.”

The project, which covers approximately 3% percent of the area of the ranch, was built in two phases (in an area equivalent to the square footage of 449 football fields). After acquiring the project in 2015, First Solar completed development and constructed the facility. Capital Dynamics then acquired the project from First Solar in August 2017.

The facility is powered by First Solar’s thin-film technology, including its Series 6 modules, which are manufactured by First Solar in the U.S.

“This project confirms that solar energy can successfully co-exist with the natural environment and an active agricultural operation while generating clean, renewable energy and local economic benefits,” says Troy Lauterbach, senior vice president of EPC and energy services for First Solar. “The California Flats Solar Project is also the first to feature our innovative Series 6 PV module technology, which is setting the standard for affordable and cleaner renewable energy.”

The California Flats project created significant jobs and economic benefits, the partners note. Construction of the project took approximately three years and had a peak workforce of over 1,100 people. The project will generate clean energy equivalent to the needs of about 116,000 average California households per year, as well as displace more than 109,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

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