Napa County intends to ban new, commercial, utility-scale solar energy farms from all local agricultural-zoned lands, with a spring study session to determine any subsequent exceptions.
The county Board of Supervisors doesn’t want acres of grid-feeding photovoltaic panels sharing prime farming soils with Napa Valley vineyards in world-famous wine country. The proposed ban would affect only new utility-scale projects, not a winery or home that wants to use solar panels for its own electricity needs.
Outside of the Napa Valley floor, the county has a few hundred thousand acres of land zoned agricultural-watershed, which is home to vineyards, cattle, woodlands, forests, rural residents and open space. That land would also be off-limits to new, commercial, utility-scale solar projects.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors signaled it will approve the ban for commercial renewable energy facilities, which includes solar farms. Since supervisors are amending an ordinance, they must take an additional vote at a future meeting.
The ordinance is designed to provide some relief for members of the public concerned about possible, utility-scale solar development in rural areas. Such projects under the proposed ordinance would be limited to less than 3,000 acres, in such places as the industrial-zoned land near Napa County Airport.
Then, in spring, the Board of Supervisors plans to study if there might be some agricultural/watershed areas away from the Napa Valley floor where utility-scale solar energy might be allowed. These might be marginal farmlands that aren’t being used.
Supervisor Belia Ramos said there could be sites south of the city of Napa and south of Highway 12 where solar makes sense.
“There are places where renewable energy is appropriate,” she said. “It’s time we provide that guidance here.”
Board chairman Ryan Gregory and Ramos said the now-closed American Canyon landfill is an example. It is zoned agricultural/watershed, so under the ordinance, it would be off-limits to having a solar development. That’s one issue the Board plans to revisit in spring.
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“It seems that’s a good use on an old landfill you can’t do much else on,” Gregory said.
Only one commercial, utility-scale solar farm has been built in the county. That is the 18-acre, 12,000-panel Renewable Properties solar farm that opened this year in the southern county near American Canyon and Interstate 80.
The American Canyon project is on land zoned agricultural/watershed and provides power for Marin Clean Energy, which serves much of Napa County. Aaron Halimi of Renewable Properties said many local officials deemed it a “perfect site” for such an endeavor.
Limiting commercial, utility-scale solar to costly industrial and commercial land would essentially kill solar development in the county, Halimi said.
“Our work helps decrease the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.
A proposed Renewable Properties solar farm in the Coombsville area recently caused controversy, with dozens of residents opposing the idea before it was withdrawn. One resident on Tuesday told supervisors that, because the county has no renewable energy ordinance, it is a “wild West” in terms of what can be proposed.
The proposed ordinance is designed to defuse that situation. Then the planned spring study session would further decide what place commercial, utility-scale solar energy might have in Napa County.
“My interest when we first started was to look at solar and how it could work for our community,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “I think we all have a responsibility to invest in renewable energy …. but it does have to work for our community.”
Barry Eberling's memorable stories from 2019
Here's some of my 2019 stories from the Napa County world of transportation, wine and communities - nothing too heavy, but hopefully with useful information.
Napa County reporter Barry Eberling takes on the American Canyon commute and talks to the experts about how it might change.
A local man successfully named To Kalon Creek and now Constellation Brands wants the name removed because of wine trademark concerns.
This is just a fun story - behind-the-scenes looks at familiar Napa sights.
Napa County's newest city of American Canyon tries to find where it fits in.