April 27, 2020

A Path Forward

Identifying Least- Conflict Solar PV Development in California’s San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley (“Valley”) is positioned to play a pivotal supporting role as California works to achieve its ambitious goal to meet half of the state’s electricity demand by 2030 from renewable sources. The Valley is also home to some of the richest, most productive farmland in the world while containing some of our most imperiled plants, animals, and natural habitats - many of which are endemic to the Valley (see images below for a couple of endemic Valley species). Large-scale renewable energy development can lead to conflict between stakeholder groups (including agricultural and conservation groups) who fear the loss of land and the detrimental effects on the species, agricultural, and ranching communities dependent on that land. Stakeholder conflict can delay the urgent need to identify areas for clean energy development.

To address this conflict, Conservation Biology Institute partnered with Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) and Terrell Watt Associates to develop a process to find “least-conflict” lands in the eight-county California San Joaquin Valley region for solar PV development. The process brought together leaders from the agricultural, conservation, solar PV development, and tribal communities to answer the question: “From your perspective, where are the least-conflict lands for solar PV development in the valley?” Key agencies were also involved.

 The San Joaquin Kit Fox is an endemic Valley species.

Using CBI’s online mapping platform (San Joaquin Valley Gateway: https://sjvp.databasin.org/) and modeling software, stakeholder working groups assembled important datasets and developed maps of relative value from their perspectives. Outputs were then combined to identify lands with high-value for solar development potential but least conflict for other land uses.

Out of the 9.5 million acres in the study area, the groups identified 470,000 acres (~5%) of non-controversial land for solar PV development. At a generic calculation of 1 megawatt of solar PV production from 5 acres of panels, the lands identified could provide 94,000 megawatts of renewable power – greater than all combined current in-state generation capacity and enough to power as many as 23 million homes in California — just from the San Joaquin Valley.


Out of the 9.5 million acres in the study area, the groups identified 470,000 acres (~5%) of non-controversial land for solar PV development - enough to power as many as 23 million homes in California


To be sure, not all of this land may be practical or feasible for solar PV development for various reasons. The exercise has accelerated the state’s renewable energy development goals while reducing negative environmental and social impacts. And all this progress was made from a stakeholder-led process that was completed in just nine months. Now that this process has been tested in the Valley, it can be replicated for other areas to address land- use conflicts. Given the urgency of climate change and the scale of the need for clean technology deployment, time is of the essence.

The results of this process are published in the report “A Path Forward: Identifying Least-Conflict Solar PV Development in California’s San Joaquin Valley” co-authored by Dustin Pearce (CBI), James Strittholt (CBI), Terry Watt (Terrell Watt Associates), and Ethan N. Elkind (CLEE).


“We set out to show that multiple and disparate parties could identify least-conflict areas for siting of solar projects in the San Joaquin Valley in a matter of months rather than years, for a reasonable cost, and that the maps could help streamline siting of projects. This approach works. It is now incumbent upon us to take advantage of it.” 

~Ken Alex, Senior Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown and Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

A female blunt-nosed leopard lizard with reproductive colors showing. Blunt-nosed leopard lizards are also an endemic and extremely endangered Valley species.

A female blunt-nosed leopard lizard in full mating coloration. Blunt-nosed leopard lizards are also an endemic and extremely endangered (at the State and Federal levels) Valley species.


San Joaquin Valley Planning

The San Joaquin Valley Data Basin Gateway was created to support a multi-stakeholder effort to identify least conflict lands for utility scale solar development in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California.

Read more

About the author:
Gwynne Corrigan, M.S.
Director of Communications
Gwynne is the Director of Communications with CBI, and is also involved with a variety of projects doing outreach, communications, research and writing. Her educational background is in ecology and biology with a particular interest in endangered species.
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