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solar array

This simulated photo shows how the view would look on Silverado Trail near Yountville's Rector Reservoir if the state builds a solar array behind a fence to power the reservoir's water treatment plant.

Solar panels could join grapes as part of the Napa Valley scenery on Silverado Trail near Rector Reservoir.

The state wants to install 630 solar panels behind a chain link fence on a half-acre of flat ground it owns next to Silverado Trail. The 220 kilowatts generated would power the reservoir’s water treatment plant, with excess power going to the PG&E grid.

Rector Reservoir provides water for the Veterans Home of California at Yountville and for Yountville. It is owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The solar array would result in “some degradation” of views from Silverado Trail, a project environmental study said. However, solar panels would be no higher than six feet tall and wouldn’t block views of hillsides.

Nor is the proposed site pristine, the study said. The half-acre includes an equipment staging area with gravel and is next to a county roads yard.

For these reasons, the study concluded the changes to wine country scenery would be “less than significant.”

County Supervisor Diane Dillon said on Friday she had just learned of the proposed project. She will have county officials look at the details to see if they have any concerns. But, she said, solar panels can be installed without hurting wine country views.

“The wine industry uses solar panels,” Dillon said. “They are all over the valley and they can’t be seen. They discreetly place them.”

For example, she noted Far Niente winery near Oakville installed solar panels that float on its farm pond.

Silverado Trail is not a state scenic highway, the project study noted. But it is county-designated scenic road.

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Jennifer Iida, a spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services, said in an email that the solar project is related to an executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown. State agencies are to reduce grid-based energy purchases to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Their intention is laudable,” Dillon said.

Napa County can comment to the state on the project, but doesn’t have veto-power. Iida said the state is self-permitting and does not go to the county for permits.

The solar project will not cost the state any money to install. The system will be built, owned and maintained by a third party. The Department of Veterans Affairs has signed a power purchase agreement to buy the renewable electricity for a fixed price for 25 years, Iida said.

When operating in full sun, the solar array will generate about three times as much energy as the water treatment plant needs, Iida said. That excess energy will create a bank of PG&E power to be used during low sun conditions or at night.

Construction is expected to start between April and June and be finished by October, she said.


Napa County Reporter

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