A company that wants to build a large solar power system for the Modesto Irrigation District on Tuesday agreed to meet with neighbors who are concerned about its footprint.
That prompted the MID board to delay a vote on a purchase agreement for the power it would produce.
Critics mainly were worried that the project, MID's biggest solar venture by far, would take up 160 acres of productive farmland.
"It's not about green energy," said Mark Stone, who farms south of the site. "It's about the type of land you put it on."
Representatives of SunPower Corp. of San Jose, which would build and operate the system, said they are trying to set up meetings in Del Rio and possibly other locations.
These would be informal meetings outside the state-mandated environmental review, which requires the proponents to look at the impacts of the project. This process would take place after the purchase agreement is approved but before the board gives final approval to the project.
Should the review find major problems, the MID could have to seek an alternative site. If the fixes are easy, such as planting bushes to screen the 7-foot-tall solar panels, the McHenry project could go forward.
Flat, near transmission lines
"I support it," Director Paul Warda said at Tuesday's board meeting, "but I think it's only fair to the community to bring them in on it before the fact rather than after the fact."
The site was chosen in part because it is flat and close to transmission lines, said Greg Sal-yer, manager of resource planning and development for the MID. Moving it to grazing land could mean conflicts over the wildlife on a different site, he said.
The 25-megawatt project would provide about 2 percent of MID's electrical capacity.
The district would pay SunPower an estimated $10 million a year over 25 years. That's more than conventional energy sources cost, but it would help the district meet a new state mandate to provide 33 percent of its output from renewable sources by 2020. It is now at 12 percent, almost all of it wind.
SunPower aims to return to the MID board in early February for the power purchase agreement, said Jeff Dasovich, the company's managing director of utilities and power plants.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.