CNPS addressed the SLO County Planning Commission three times, and the Board of Supervisors once regarding plans to change local zoning to allow solar and wind projects to be ‘fast-tracked’. As a result it seems CNPS will be notified when a project enters the fast track system, and in a surprise move, County said it let us look at botanic reports. We also got the maximum acreage to be considered by a ministerial position to be reduced from 160 acres to 40 acres. How much of this will stick when the Board of Supervisors make a decision on March 24th, but I don’t expect to get much more in the way of concessions.

As I stated last month, CNPS is strongly for alternative energy, but just want to avoid needless destruction of valuable habitat in the process. We had requested that the requirement that land be “disturbed” before entering Fast Track be extended to 40 acres rather than the current cap of 20 acres. CNPS has been hanging out all on its lonesome in this issue, so there does not be much political pressure to give us what we want.

Given that CNPS, upon being notified about a project, could warn of the potential presence of rare plants, we are going to try to locate the positions of all plants of CEQA significance that may exist in herbarium records. That way, when we are notified, we can make an intelligent response.

I was asked to go on a tour of the Topaz Solar Farm with a group of people to look at the conditions inside the panel array blocks. I am happy to report that they were surprisingly good, with grass and fiddleneck being more robust under the panels that in open areas. As several people have addressed possible negative impacts to carbon sequestration when grazing land is converted to panel fields, it would seem that the way the panels have been designed won’t have significant impact in this regard. It seems reduced evaporative stress counters the reduced light under the panels. Topaz will use sheep to graze under the panels, so much of their land has gone from dry grain farming to sheep meadow. One suspects that weedy native annuals such as fiddleneck and phacelia will persist on the site. Attempts to introduce native bunch grasses under the panels seem to be of their land has gone from dry grain farming to sheep meadow. One suspects that weedy native annuals such as fiddleneck and phacelia will persist on the site. Attempts to introduce native bunch grasses under the panels seem to be successful.David Chipping