The massive Topaz Solar Farms photovoltaic plant just west of the San Joaquin Valley is now complete, producing 550 megawatts of electricity for the state’s power grid — enough energy to power some 180,000 homes served by PG&E.
Plant owner BHE Renewables describes Topaz Solar Farms as one of the world’s largest solar power facilities. During its three-year construction, 400 workers installed more than 8.4 million photovoltaic modules mounted on 850,280 posts.
The facility is spread over 4,700 acres north of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, alongside Highway 58 about 60 miles west of Bakersfield.
Topaz is the second commercial-scale photovoltaic plant to be built in the southeastern corner of San Luis Obispo County. Construction of the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch was completed in November 2013.
The main environmental concern for both plants was their impact on the myriad endangered species living in and around the Carrizo Plain.
First Solar hired biological monitors Althouse and Meade of Paso Robles to protect two species of fairy shrimp as well as San Joaquin kit fox, pronghorn antelope and tule elk. Various bird species, such as burrowing owls, which live and forage in the Carrizo Plain, were also protected.
The company provided wildlife migration corridors through the plant and protected more than 20,000 acres of surrounding land as native species habitat.
Earlier this month, First Solar announced that it will build another solar plant in the area. Construction of a 280-megawatt solar farm in the southeastern corner of Monterey County on the Hearst Corp.’s Jack Ranch north of Cholame is expected to begin later this year and conclude by the end of 2016.