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MerCo Publishing Inc.
525 Route 73 N, Suite 104
Marlton, NJ 08053

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Golden State glory - harvesting sunshine

There's a new kind of farming taking place in San Bernardino County, California where sunshine is plentiful, but water is waning. Solar farming is swiftly taking the place of fruit farming from decades past.

By Kirsten Freeman

San Bernardino County in southern California is famous for its size and its sunshine. The largest county in the world, it’s bigger than Switzerland and has about 300 sun-filled days per year.

In the mid-1900s, that sunshine helped more than 100,000 acres of grape vines, peach trees and orange groves flourish. As the availability of water has diminished, though, significantly restricting farmers’ ability to grow fruit, some are looking to the sun to sustain a different crop.


New energy

The High Desert town of Daggett in western San Bernardino County has been tapping into its sunny natural resource for decades. It is home to the world’s first commercial solar power and thermal energy plants, built in the 1980s.

The county is also home to the Daggett Solar+ Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), California’s largest hybrid renewables-plus-storage project to date, with 482 megawatts of solar power and 394 megawatts of energy storage capacity. Daggett Solar’s 1.2 million solar modules will generate enough clean energy to service five different energy providers: Clean Power Alliance (CPA), East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), Constellation, MCE and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

The project will offset more than one million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing more than 230,000 cars from the road, and will help California reach its goal to be carbon-free by 2050.

The project has a unique advantage in being able to leverage existing infrastructure from the nearby retired Coolwater Generating Station to deliver low-cost energy to consumers. The battery energy storage system (BESS) helps maintain stability of the electric grid, reduces blackouts and ensures a reliable source of energy. The massive BESS was installed in two phases and includes 165 semi-truck sized battery enclosures covering nearly 18 acres.

California-based Clearway Energy Group, one of the largest developers and operators of clean energy in the U.S., teamed up with Blattner Energy, a Quanta Services Company that has constructed more than a fourth of the renewable energy in the U.S. The companies have worked together on four wind energy projects, and Daggett Solar is the first solar + BESS project they have built together, with more in the works.)

Daggett Solar is situated on more than 3,600 acres near the former Coolwater Generating Station site, a retired coal and natural gas power plant, and the early-1980s solar projects. Generational landowner Glen Van Dam has been an integral partner for the project. “Growing up, this ranch was adjacent to one of the early solar electric generating stations, so I assumed we would eventually be incorporated into the solar community,” Van Dam said. “We have harvested alfalfa, grain crops and pistachios on this property—and now we are excited to be harvesting sunlight.”

Clearway and Blattner made efforts to preserve, restore and maintain the habitat of the project—always mindful of the integrity of the property and with respect for the environment, property owners and neighbors.

“Daggett Solar is largely located on previously disturbed agricultural land, which had an intense water use,” said James Kelly, the Daggett Solar project developer at Clearway. “And because solar does not require water to generate power, it contributes to water preservation in a region where that’s critical.

In the long run, the project will provide reliable clean energy at a massive scale from one of the best solar resources on the planet.”

“Farmers are resourceful, and renewable energy fits well with the landowner mentality of wanting the best use of their land,” Van Dam said. “Clean energy is where our future is going. We have established a long-term benefit for generations to come.”


Community Connection

On top of building a solid relationship with the landowner, Clearway and Blattner have been working to inspire a bright future in the community, as well. The project created more than 500 union labor jobs during construction, and will require at least a dozen operations, maintenance and management personnel, long-term. The project has generated an estimated $200 million in local spending during construction and will generate another $18.5 million in taxes, benefitting area schools, hospitals and local infrastructure.

Over the duration of the project, the companies have contributed to multiple community efforts, including supporting the Silver Valley Fire Alliance, local first responders and the local schools.

“We’re proud to work alongside a great partner like Clearway to lead America to a clean energy future with milestone projects like Daggett Solar,” said Dan Fredrickson, vice president of solar for Blattner. “This project demonstrates a collective vision of community and the possibility for a cleaner, brighter future. Together, we can build a better tomorrow and make a positive impact along the way.”


Kirsten Freeman is External Communications Manager at Blattner Company (www.blattnercompany.com).


Q3 2023