SB 618 Provides Limited Williamson Act Relief for Solar Developers

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Just signed by Governor Brown, SB 618 (Wolk) creates, for the first time, an explicit mechanism for landowners and solar developers to remove non-prime agricultural land from existing Williamson Act contracts in order to use it for photovoltaic solar energy production.

Designed to protect California's agricultural lands from development, the Williamson Act has long allowed cities and counties to enter into 10-year contracts with landowners who agree to limit their land to agricultural uses in exchange for lower property taxes. But the State's mandate for large utilities to achieve 33% renewable (retail) energy by 2020 has put solar development and the Williamson Act on a collision course. A significant amount of under-productive agricultural land around the State well suited for utility-scale solar projects is already protected from non-agricultural use under Williamson Act contracts; but the high cost of early contract termination can make those otherwise viable locations unaffordable for solar developers working with tight margins in a young, dynamic industry.

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