Groups sue to stop SunPower plant in California

LOS ANGELES Thu Jun 2, 2011 3:48pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two conservation groups and a California resident have sued to stop construction of a SunPower Corp solar power plant, saying the project would harm the rural area's wildlife, air quality and natural beauty.

San Luis Obispo county community groups Carrizo Commons and North County Watch and local farmer and auto repair shop owner Michael Strobridge filed the lawsuit on May 20 in California state court.

In court papers, the plaintiffs said county officials did not adequately analyze the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch's impact on the area's aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, noise, traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural resources.

The suit asks that the county be ordered to set aside its approval of the California Valley Solar Ranch and that the project be declared unlawful.

In addition to SunPower, the lawsuit names San Luis Obispo county, its Board of Supervisors, NRG Energy Inc, utility PG&E Corp and several others as defendants. NRG last year said it would buy the project, though SunPower will develop it.

A SunPower spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but called the county's review process "very thorough... the California Valley Solar Ranch is designed to minimize environmental impacts and maximize economic benefits to the County."

The project was approved by the county's planning commission in February after a string of hearings during which the five-member panel weighed the project's economic and environmental benefits against its impact on native species, local residents and the region's landscape.

Several challenges to that approval were rejected by the county's Board of Supervisors in April.

SunPower in April received a conditional commitment for a $1.187 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund construction of the plant.

Another, larger, solar project is also planned for the same area. First Solar Inc's 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm won approval from the county's planning commission last month. Three appeals to that approval have already been filed by Strobridge, landowner Jody Stegman, and a group of conservation groups including North County Watch, Carrizo Commons, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife.

The Board of Supervisors will consider those appeals during a hearing on July 12, according to a First Solar spokesman.

The case in the Superior Court of California, County of San Luis Obispo is Carrizo Commons et al. v. County of San Luis Obispo, et al., CV110314.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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