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Wine Industry

Can a Napa winery run on a generator, not PG&E, forever?

A winery inside caves in hills above Soda Canyon that has generated controversy is facing questions about how it generates electricity.

The Caves at Soda Canyon relies on a generator, not Pacific Gas & Electric, for power. It recently learned that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District won’t give a permit for the existing generator and that it needs a newer, larger model, a county report said.

This news prompted the Napa County Board of Supervisors to delay a Tuesday appeals hearing on a proposed The Caves at Soda Canyon expansion until Dec. 5. That will give the county time to do an environmental review for the replacement generator.

Questions over the generator at The Caves at Soda Canyon have arisen before. The topic came up at the April 19 county Planning Commission meeting.

“Is it OK to run a winery on a generator forever?” Planning Commissioner Joelle Gallagher asked.

“In our county code, we do not have a requirement that says, ‘Thou shall be hooked up to PG&E,’” county Supervising Planner Charlene Gallina replied.

The Caves at Soda Canyon winery is located underground at 2275 Soda Canyon Road. The winery ran into trouble after building without county permission a cave portal leading to a patio tasting area with views of the Napa Valley, as well as opening other outdoor tasting areas.

A request for after-the-fact approvals led to Planning Commission hearings in 2015 and 2017. The Planning Commission in April finally approved the cave portal and outdoor tasting areas, as well as a request to double maximum wine production from 30,000 gallons annually to 60,000 gallons annually.

That prompted neighbor Steven Stull to appeal the case to the Board of Supervisors. Among other things, Stull claims using a generator as a permanent power source violates county codes and policies.

Several Planning Commissioners at the April 19th meeting expressed curiosity about the generator.

“Can you talk us through the power issue just briefly, the generator versus access to PG&E and how that came about?” Planning Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill asked.

“It’s a long story,” said attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert, who represents the winery.

That story begins in 2006, when the Planning Commission originally approved the winery. Commissioner Terry Scott, the only current commissioner who participated in that decision, recalled the generator as being a temporary measure pending a PG&E hookup.

Greenwood-Meinert said the winery has tried over the years to bring PG&E power to the location. PG&E required an easement across a neighbor’s property and the neighbor wouldn’t grant it unless the power line was underground.

“That undergrounding cost north of a million dollars,” Greenwood-Meinert said. “So that’s cost prohibitive at this point.”

The Planning Commission approved the requested winery changes by a 3-1 vote, though several commissioners voiced the hope that solar or some other power source will eventually replace the generator.

“I don’t feel like we can ding them for having a generator when there’s no law that says they must hook up to PG&E,” Gill said.

Greenwood-Meinert told commissioners that county staff, to the surprise of everyone, recently concluded that regulation changes made a permit from the air district necessary for the generator. He added that the winery would obtain the permit.

But obtaining the permit didn’t go as smoothly as the winery expected. The generator will be among the issues when the Board of Supervisors resumes the appeals hearing at 9:25 a.m. Dec. 5.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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