An assortment of elected officials from across San Mateo County crammed into two vans on a recent morning and headed inland. Their destination: Los Banos.
Their route was a winding roadway through the Pacheco Pass, with dry, brown hills in every direction – a desolate California, far from the foggy sea, lush Santa Cruz Mountains or oaky chaparral that characterize their home jurisdictions.
Only one hiccup occurred when one of the vans got stuck on a pile of rocks on the dirt road leading up the hill. After the officials had been safely transferred to another van, they were deposited at their dusty destination, the literal end of the road that had a large shade structure, tables, a dais with a microphone, a team of supporters and collaborators, and a collection of golden shovels.
They had made the journey for the Oct. 11 groundbreaking of what’s called the “Wright Solar Project,” the installation of a solar farm that is going to be a 1,200-acre, 200-megawatt collection of solar panels that will provide between 500,000 and 600,000 megawatt hours a year of electrical power to meet the energy needs for about 15 percent of San Mateo County.
The Wright Solar Project is so far the largest solar power plant ever commissioned by what’s called a “community choice energy” provider in California, according to Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), a community choice energy program that San Mateo County formed in February 2016.
Solar power now comes at a lower cost than many other alternatives, the cost is known up front, and in this case, it will create an estimated 400 local, union jobs during the construction and upkeep phases of the project, he said. According to George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy, the firm building the project, renewable energy employs more people than the coal, oil and gas industries combined.