Kern County supervisors on Tuesday approved the conversion of 265 acres of farmland three miles southwest of Arvin into a 20-megawatt solar power project.
Neighbor Randy Parker mounted a passionate opposition to the project, bringing Fresno lawyer Richard Harriman in to decry the loss of prime farmland and argue that the change conflicts with the county general plan.
But supervisors came down on the side of project developer SunEdison and the property's owner, farmer John Scarrone, who is leasing the land to the developer.
"This project is being proposed in the wrong place," Parker said. "We don't have to trade six months of construction jobs for 20 years of farm jobs."
But representatives of SunEdison said there are very few places where the nearby utility power transmission lines have the capacity to receive the power that will be generated by the moderate-size plant.
Harriman said the project is a betrayal of the Scarrone family's promise, through the Williamson Act, to keep the property as prime farmland. Allowing the project to move forward, he said, would be an assault on the county's agricultural community.
"You're really punching agribusiness in the face," he said.
County planning staff and County Counsel Theresa Goldner disputed Harriman's statements.
Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said the Williamson Act is a contract, not a permanent promise to farm a piece of ground. The county has policies in place to preserve prime farmland, she said.
Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the development.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner said he didn't agree with Harriman's contention that all ag land in Kern County would be converted into solar panels.
Scrivner said there is a limited amount of capacity on transmission lines and a limited demand from power companies for additional renewable energy.
"I don't see a widespread conversion of ag land to solar projects or any other projects," Scrivner said.