Opportunity to Shape New Rules for Solar Development on Protected Ag Lands

August 13, 2012

California Farmer

The California Department of Conservation is now seeking input on its early draft language of the regulations implementing Senate Bill (SB) 618.  The Department’s circulation of this “pre-release” regulation draft gives interested parties, including agricultural interests, an early opportunity to help shape the regulations implementing SB 618.

SB 618, signed into law in 2011, allows development of photovoltaic solar facilities on marginally-productive or degraded farmland that is protected from development under a Williamson Act contract without cancelling the Williamson Act contract.  This is accomplished by transferring the land into a new type of solar-use easement created by SB 618.

In enacting SB 618, the legislature expressed its intent to encourage solar energy development on certain less-productive types of agricultural land (as determined by the city or county and the Department of Conservation).  SB 618 will allow land owners and solar developers who select such qualifying less-productive lands for solar facilities to avoid costly cancellations of Williamson Act contracts.

One issue worth noting in the regulations is the requirements for restoring the solar-use easement land when the solar energy use ends.  SB 618 itself required the landowner to post financial security (such as a bond) for restoration in some cases, and gave local governments discretion to require it in others, but did not go so far as to require financial security in all cases.  The draft regulations implementing SB 618 go farther by obliging the city or county reviewing the solar-use easement application to require financial security for restoration in all cases.

The Department is circulating this early “pre-release” draft of the regulations to help identify early issues, before the formal rulemaking process begins.  The regulations will cover many topics that are important to the agricultural industry, such as how to identify suitable lands for a solar-use easement, and ways to ensure that land developed under a solar-use easement is restored to its prior condition at the end of the easement’s term.  Specifically, the Department wants to hear from stakeholders on the following topics (among others): reasonable alternatives to the regulations, effects on job creation and business growth, effects on small business, and other cost and economic impacts to businesses and government.

Both agricultural and solar development interests, large and small, actively lobbied their versions of SB 618 during the legislative process.  These interests will no doubt continue to shape SB 618’s implementation by commenting on the draft regulations.

Interested parties who wish to comment on the draft regulations must file their comments with the Department by August 17, 2012.


Published in the August 13, 2012 edition of California Farmer. Republished with permission.