Napa County might generate as well as take green energy from the power grid if proposed solar farms in rural Coombsville east of the city of Napa and near American Canyon become realities.
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 10 Palm Drive in the Coombsville area. 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.
The other location is 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.
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.
Halimi said his company has a vigorous method for siting a solar project. That includes finding areas near to the electricity grid, looking at permit requirements, looking at habitat and topography issues and an examination of access rights.
“Ultimately, the economics have to work for the project,” he said. “Finding land in Napa County for a solar project was a tough task that took us a significant amount of time.”
Local benefits from the project will include grid reliability, about 35 local construction jobs and clean emission-free energy, he said.
“Climate change is a global problem that requires local solutions,” Halimi said. “It’s our sincere hope that Napa County is willing to be part of the solution and support our projects.”
MCE sells energy in various regional communities, including Napa County, using PG&E transmission lines and billing services. J.R. Killigrew of the agency said that the two Napa County projects combined would provide enough energy for 2,000 homes.
Killigrew made the statement in February, when it was known that a company was looking at Napa County for two solar projects. At that time, the name of the company and the locations of the projects had yet to be made public.
The two projects are to be done under MCE’s feed-in tariff program. MCE provides predicable energy prices for small-scale renewable energy developers over a 20-year contract.
“We just provide the marketplace,” David Potovsky of MCE told the Napa Valley Register in February.
But that can be a big piece to renewable energy development. Potovsky said that financers putting up money for solar projects like these fixed-term contracts.
“It’s a relatively safe investment, he said.
Napa County has small solar energy arrays providing power for specific buildings, such as wineries. Arrays are proposed by the state to provide power for Napa State Hospital and the water treatment plant at Rector Reservoir that serves Yountville.
But a solar farm that feeds solely into the power grid is another story. A 2010 proposal for such an array at the now-closed American Canyon landfill failed. Currently, the company Ciel & Terre is looking at whether a floating array can be built on Napa Sanitation District ponds.