The Lancaster Planning Commission minutes from their recent meeting indicate that Sunlight Partners is requesting a conditional use permit for the construction and operation of a photovoltaic solar electric energy generating facility in the Rural Residential Zone. The proposed project consists of rows of PV panels on single axis trackers which would generate approximately 1.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The City of Lancaster has determined that the development and use of alternative energy is beneficial to the community, and this determination is evident in the decisions made by the City Council. The City Council has implemented several solar and wind energy programs thus far and they are working to install solar panels on City facilities. Additionally, the City’s General Plan has several policies pertaining to alternative energy. These objectives address the need to develop new sources of energy, as well as reduce energy consumption, and it is consistent with the City’s goals according to the Commission.
The project site is currently vacant and zoned SRR (Semi Rural Residential). However, the City’s zoning code does not permit the development of commercial-style solar energy facilities under the current SRR zoning; therefore, rezoning of the site to RR-2.5(rural residential) is necessary to allow the project to move forward. The proposed project would operate year-round, producing a total of 1.5 MW of renewable electric power during daytime hours. Power generated by the proposed project would be sold to Southern California Edison. The proposed project consists of rows of photovoltaic panels on single axis trackers with three inverters in the middle of the project site. These photovoltaic panels would convert sunlight directly into electrical energy without the use of heat transfer fluid or cooling water. The project would tie into the transmission lines that run along 40th Street East. A chain-link fence would surround the project site and a 10-foot landscaped planter would be provided between the fence and property line to screen the development from the surrounding uses. Access to the project site would be provided via a gate on 40th Street East. Irrevocable offers of dedication would be provided for both Avenue K-8 and 37th Street East. Avenue K-8 would be dedicated at 42 feet from the centerline, and 37th Street East would be dedicated at 32 feet from the centerline.
The proposed project has the potential to impact views from the surrounding roads and nearby residences. The photovoltaic panels are low profile with a maximum height of approximately eight (8) feet. While the views of the project site would change, the development would not impede long range views. Additionally, the project site would be fenced and landscaped around the entire perimeter.
Construction of the proposed project would generate noise, which has the potential to impact surrounding land uses. Mitigation measures are required which would reduce noise impacts to a less than significant level. Minimal amounts of noise would be generated by the operation of the proposed project and only during routine maintenance as the panels and tracking system are silent. Most of the time the facility would be remotely operated and no noise would be generated. Additional environmental impacts could be generated during construction of the proposed project with respect to biological resources and geology soils. The construction of the proposed project has the potential to impact burrowing owls during vegetation removal and grading operations. The applicant is required to conduct a pre-construction burrowing owl survey prior to the issuance of any permits. In the event burrowing owls are encountered on the project site during the survey, the applicant shall coordinate with the California Department of Fish and Game to determine the appropriate procedures/mitigation. Therefore, potential impacts would be less than significant. The applicant is also required to prepare and implement a dust control plan in accordance with AVAQMD Rule 403 which would ensure that impacts from dust during construction are minimal. Therefore, staff is recommending that the Commission approve the zone change and conditional use permit subject to the proposed conditions, based on the site having sufficient area to accommodate the proposed development, adequate access and services being available for the use, and the lack of significant adverse effects on the surrounding area.