Proposed solar farms near American Canyon and the city of Napa could generate green energy for Napa County, assuming local opposition doesn’t impact at least one of the projects.
The San Francisco company Renewable Properties has applied to Napa County to build two rural arrays. It would sell the electricity to Marin Clean Energy (MCE), the not-for-profit public agency that provides electricity to much of Napa County.
“Our hope is we could start construction before the end of the year,” said Aaron Halimi, president of Renewable Properties.
Napa County has yet to set dates for its Planning Commission to consider the two proposals.
One solar array would be at 2180 American Canyon Road near Interstate 80 on 21 acres that Renewable Properties has an option to buy. It would have 12,096 solar panels and generate three megawatts of electricity.
This site has 13 acres used as pastures for sheep and goats. The project wouldn’t affect a stream with willows and other vegetation, a biological report said.
The other location is at 10 Palm Drive in the Coombsville area of Napa. It would be located on 17 acres, have 11,500 solar panels and generate three megawatts of electricity, according to the project application filed with Napa County. Renewable Properties would lease the land.
This site is near vineyards, but does not have vineyards itself. A biological study shows about an acre of live coast oak woodlands and 6.3 acres of blue oak woodlands would be affected by the project.
Both the Coombsville and American Canyon sites are in the county’s agricultural watershed zoning district. County Planner Graham Hannaford pointed to a more obscure section of the zoning code—section 18.120, titled “Exceptions”—that allows power generating uses in all zoning districts with a use permit.
The Coombsville project received a chilly reception during a recent community meeting in the rural region where it would be built.
Opponents said 2 megawatts of energy for the power grid is the wrong crop to reap in this agricultural area. The developer said the project would be a local solution to the global climate change problem.
Halimi hosted the community meeting July 17 at Mount George Elementary School east of the city of Napa. More than 100 people attended, as opposed to the 25 to 30 people Halimi said he had expected.
“We have firsthand experience working in areas where property values are not impacted by solar farms,” Halimi told the audience.
But what would be Napa County’s first utility commercial solar farm proved a tough sell to those attending.
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“The majority of people in this audience do not want it … you might want to cut your losses,” resident John Zimmermann told Halimi, prompting a loud round of applause.
The two solar farms would generate enough electricity to power a couple thousand homes.
Halimi said the proposed Coombsville farm has been shrunk from the original 17 acres to 11.5 acres. Power from the project would be sold to Marin Clean Energy, the agency that provides electricity for much of Napa County using PG&E lines and billing services.
Renewable Properties filed an application for the project with the county on April 25. The project to move forward must receive a use permit from the Napa County Planning Commission, with no meeting yet scheduled.
Hanna Stolarczyk lives about a mile from Palm Drive. She learned of the proposed project from the Nextdoor Napa portal and opposes it.
Stolarczyk said the commercial solar project would be a nuisance for Coombsville residents. It would destroy the aesthetic integrity of the neighborhood, cause the removal of several acres of oaks and might encourage others to lease land for solar projects.
“By definition, agricultural land is meant for ag use,” she told the Napa Valley Register in an email.
Opponents have created the “No Palm Drive Solar” website with a petition against the project. “Right idea, wrong location,” the site says.
“People come here to see vineyards and mountains,” one speaker at the community meeting told Halimi. “No one wants to be sipping cabernet and looking at a solar farm.”
Halimi tried to clear up what he thought were misconceptions about solar farms, such as that they cause glare. The panels are designed to absorb the sunlight, not reflect it, he said.
Nor does he see his project as opening the floodgates to solar energy farms in Napa County’s agricultural areas. The grid can take only so much power generation before requiring upgrades that make projects financially infeasible. Marin Clean Energy has a limited appetite for solar, he said.
Plus, Napa County has limited land that is affordable for solar projects, Halimi said.
“We’re not competing with vineyard economics here,” he said.