An application to build a 2,527 acre, 250-megawatt solar farm is being processed by Kings County. It would be the largest photovoltaic project in the county.

Called Westlands Aquamarine, the plan being proposed by the company, Westland Solar Park, is south of the Avenal Cutoff on the north side of Laurel, both east and west of 25th Avenue.

The big project is the first to move to the permit stage in what the applicant has predicted will be the largest master-planned clean energy park in the U.S. with more than 20,000 acres of drainage-impaired farmland designated for the development of solar energy and storage generation. Virtually all of the land in this part of Kings County is in the Westland Water District and slated to be retired due to high salinity and selenium contamination.

So far Westland Solar Park has built a ”demonstration” 2MW facility with power being sold to the city of Anaheim. They are working to construct another 20MW solar farm in the area as well.

But this latest application is a major step-up to the mega-solar project level - one of many expected to be built here at the crossroads of the California grid system near I-5. Westlands Aquamarine could be operational by 2020.

This past week the Kings County Board of Supervisors signed an agreement for indemnification for the county and reimbursement of extraordinary costs with Westlands Aquamarine LLC relating to a conditional use permit for their commercial solar energy facility.

Westland Solar Park representative Josh Martin says California is moving to more renewables, fueled not just by policy but by a dramatic lowering of costs to build the modules that “will benefit not just this part of the state but all the ratepayers.”

Investors in the Westland Solar Park, about a decade in the planning, now include the capital firm CIM, which joined the project in 2014, and founders, Westside Assets of Visalia. WSP has estimated the rural industrial park could develop up to 2,000 megawatts, equivalent to Diablo Canyon’s nuclear power plant’s output, now being retired.

In presentations to developers, utilities and regulators, the investment team has made the case that the location and setting for the project makes sense in part because the solar resource is abundant, the state grid system passes through nearby and there are fewer impacts to species, unlike the state’s desert regions. With so much of Westlands Water District no longer fit to farm it is no wonder that this sprawling district may see 6,500MW of solar projects in coming years.

The big water district is working to publish a draft of a major project EIR, in the works now for two years.

The latest solar project count in Kings County is impressive, at 1,424MW of planned solar projects on 14,000 acres built or undergoing permitting through April of this year.

Light crop or big crop of cherries? 

Hooray for cherries - the first tree fruit of the season to hit the produce shelves with early varieties seen around May 4. This year industry sources say the crop in the south Valley will be lighter than other parts of the state.

The 2017 crop is estimated to be around 8.4 million boxes says Hanford produce manager Maurice Cameron of Warmerdam Packing. "That's a big crop - 2 million boxes more than last year." While Hanford area farms appear to have had a good set, growers in Fresno County say they have a light crop." We are happy anyway," says Mt Brook Ranch owner Howard Hooker, since "this is the first cherry crop we've had in five years." Hooker says rain and rough weather have wiped out his crop at bloom time, year after year.

Warmerdam will be selling their juicy cherries at Costco and Walmart in Hanford as well as their fruit stand at 16th and Grangeville. Fruit is good size due to heavy rains but the cool spring has delayed ripening by some days.

Spring rains in the next few weeks could cause trouble as it did last year when some farmers lost a good portion of their crop. Reports from Lodi suggest cherries could ripen at one time since the fruit set seemed to come all at once. So there could be marketing issues as the industry seeks to spread sales through early June.

Navy Credit Union remodel

The Navy Federal Credit Union in Lemoore is getting a $325,000 remodel this month. The credit union advertises that you can leave the military, change employers, move, retire, get married - and never have to leave Navy Federal - "Once a member, always a member.” They are located at 885 N Lemoore Ave. #190.

New hope for NAFTA?

An ag industry report says the new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had a big impact on what happened to President Trump’s plan to kill NAFTA, concerned the move would hurt rural America.

Here is one report from the National Association of Farm Broadcasting news service. “Perdue, with help from Secretary Ross, showed Trump a map of the many different regions that would be hit hard if America withdrew from NAFTA. Many of those areas included rural parts of the country that voted overwhelmingly to help get Trump elected president last year. During a recent speech in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Trump said, “NAFTA has been very, very bad for our country.” As recent as this week, he ramped up the anti-NAFTA rhetoric, saying, “I was all set to terminate as of Thursday.” Sources say he changed his mind shortly after looking at the map.”

California farmers mostly praise NAFTA.

Cage-free egg company gets state tax credits - Construction underway

Valley-based Central Valley Eggs has secured a $1.8 million tax credit from the state in April to promote the hiring of 53 new workers over the next few years for its planned cage-free egg ranches in Kern County, just across form the Kings County line.

Slated to be the largest egg ranch in the county, production is expected to reach 36 million eggs a month. Construction of several of the ranches is underway now northeast of Wasco with the facility to be rolling out the eggs in early 2018.

Central Valley Eggs will consist of four farms, each housing 2.5 million hens. Customers statewide will be serviced with fresh eggs on a same-day basis from Central Valley local farms, says the company.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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