Earlier this week, a private investment group with land in the Westlands Water District announced its intention to farm a new crop in California’s Central Valley: the sun’s energy. The proposed Westlands Solar Park would take 30,000 acres of fallow land and provide 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to power between 2.5 million and 4 million homes in California.
As an agricultural district with junior water rights, the Westlands Water District has frequently been the center of controversy. Most recently, it attempted to overturn California’s Endangered Species Act in a desperate water grab that would have maximized the profits of the agribusiness tycoons that Westlands serves, but risked driving California’s salmon to extinction.
However, the new proposal for solar in the district has drawn a broad base of support from nontraditional allies, including the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League, who are hopeful that the proposed project will make California a leader in carbon-free energy generation and create solar installation, operations, and maintenance jobs in an area with high historic levels of structural unemployment.