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Proposed American Canyon solar array (copy)

This simulation shows where Napa County's first commercial solar farm will go along American Canyon Road near Interstate 80 in southern Napa County. County supervisors want to craft a renewable energy ordinance for future proposed solar farms.

Napa County supervisors want to create rules for large commercial solar farms in the wake of people’s fears that photovoltaic panels might someday blight wine country.

Supervisor Belia Ramos brought up the topic of commercial renewable energy rules at the Jan. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting. Her colleagues quickly agreed they should craft policies for a use presently allowed in all zoning districts with Planning Commission approval.

“I think it’s prudent we address this sooner rather than later, as it has already proven to be contentious in our community,” Ramos said.

How soon the Board of Supervisors acts remains to be seen, as the issue has yet to be scheduled. A renewable energy ordinance is now one more thing on the county’s 2019 to-do list.

Renewable Properties LLC last year proposed to build county’s first commercial solar farms, one near American Canyon along Interstate 80 and the other in the rural Coombsville area near the city of Napa. The Coombsville proposal proved controversial among neighbors and has since been withdrawn.

The American Canyon proposal went before the county Planning Commission on Oct. 17, Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. It finally passed by a 3-2 vote amid concerns that the county has no regulations for commercial solar farms, as do neighboring Sonoma and Solano counties.

“This application sets a precedent that may be impossible to challenge for the next application or the one after that,” said Eve Kahn of Get a Grip on Growth and Napa Vision 2050.

Commissioner Joelle Gallagher voted against the American Canyon project.

“I want to see the regulations and guidance in place before we start approving commercial solar,” she said.

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A majority of commissioners said they thought the American Canyon site a good place for 12,000 solar panels to provide power for Marin Clean Energy, which serves Napa County. But they too wanted more guidance from the Board of Supervisors on renewable energy projects.

In the wake of Planning Commission approval, the American Canyon solar project itself looked likely to go to the Board of Supervisors. Resident Laura Tinthoff said after the meeting that critics of the project would file an appeal. They never did.

On Thursday, Tinthoff said the potential appellants are new to the county government process. They started out concerned about the now-defunct Coombsville project and then saw the issue was much bigger.

“We were very sincere in realizing this could affect all of Napa County,” Tinthoff said.

She expressed satisfaction with the Board of Supervisors’ willingness to work on an ordinance, saying that’s what her group was seeking.

Ramos said a renewable energy ordinance will give more guidance to the Planning Commission. Also, the use permit application used for the American Canyon commercial solar farm project was for wineries, something she’d like to see changed.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said he would have brought the renewable energy ordinance issue up if Ramos hadn’t.

“I really think we need this,” Supervisor Diane Dillon agreed.

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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.