A conditional use permit for a relatively small solar photovoltaic generating and electricity storage facility sailed through a unanimous approval this week by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, the second time the project has been given the OK.

However, because the CUP approved for the project in 2019 expired when the developer did not obtain the required zoning clearance within 18 months, commissioners extended that condition to 24 months to ensure it could be met.

Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough, who asked for the extended deadline, said he has done three large projects with solar power and is currently working on a fourth.

“When you do a solar project … it typically takes now almost a year to get a set of plans approved, and it can take more than six months to actually get [Pacific Gas and Electric Co.] to make a connection, which is amazing to me,” Blough said.

Commission Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Larry Ferini asked if solar technology had advanced during the two-year lag since the original CUP was approved, and a couple of commissioners wondered if any changes had been made to the project as a result.

Andrew Wong, representing the developer, said the proposed facility is unchanged from the originally approved project, but he said solar technology has improved.

Solar plant location map.jpg

An aerial image included in a Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department staff report shows the location of a 3-megawatt solar electric generation approved for Cuyama Valley this week by the Planning Commission. The location is about 1.9 miles south of Highway 166.

“Solar cells are generally making more power per square foot and will continue to,” Wong said.

County ordinances allow up to 600 acres of solar electric generating facilities in the Cuyama Valley.

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The 3-megawatt solar generating plant is located on 20.5 acres adjacent to the existing 327-acre, 40-megawatt Cuyama Solar Array, which will also feed electricity into the lithium-ion storage cells on the SEPV Cuyama Solar Facility site.

Power will be fed into the state electric grid directly from the two facilities’ solar panels, from the storage batteries or from both, depending upon demand, time of day and available sunlight.

Wong said electricity stored in the batteries helps smooth out the power supply and allows suppliers to react quickly to changing power demands, so the county can expect to see more projects like this one.

“We will see a variety of sizes, depending on the wherewithal of the developer,” he said.

There was no public comment on the project.

“We did approve the project prior, it was a good project then, it looks like a good project now,” Ferini said. “What we did gain in today’s hearing was a little more education on the project and how it works.”

Commissioner Michael Cooney, whose 1st District includes the facility site, said he is excited about the project and moved to approve the CUP with the time extension.

“There’s no place better for a project like this than Cuyama Valley,” Cooney said.