I have been practicing architecture for over 36 years and found the Planning Commission meeting held on Nov. 28 alarming.
At this meeting, we had a commissioner and planning staff take a position that said that Aaron Halimi, of Renewable Properties, the developer of the American Canyon solar project, had followed all the rules (even though no rules to govern solar projects have been designed, drafted or written by Napa County) and so his project should be approved. If not approved, we were setting a precedent that told future developers that Napa County does not follow its rules, stay away (not verbatim but clearly the message).
As an architect, I have seen a great many projects follow the rules and have support of planning staff only to be turned down by planning commissions and or supervisors. One of the requirements for being a developer is to take risks. The developer’s reward is proportionate to the risk they take. The greater the risk, the greater the profit. Therefore, for a commission to approve a project because the developer threatens to withdraw his project if it is not approved, is a threat that the commission should not bow down to. The commission should operate above such pressures.
As far as following all the “rules”, and calling this project’s participants a utility, giving them freedom to roam and do what they will in our Ag watershed, one needs to remember that the rules around the “utility” term were put in place a long time ago and solar was in its infancy.
That “utilities” were exempt from all rules applied to PG&E and its power lines and its distribution. They were “narrow corridors” of exemptions and at that time and this time not intended to accommodate a development of 18 acres of “solar factory.” No other use is, or has been allowed, 85.7 percent lot coverage as is the case with this American Canyon solar project.
This is why, as a resident of Napa County, we contend that the outdated zoning laws need to be updated before considering approval of such a precedent creating project. This type of updating is done in all walks of life, including in the government and within the justice system. It is what we call progress. This is why some of us have voting rights that we would never have had some years ago.
We encourage our commissioners to take a stand for progress. The commission should not feel pressure to act just because the developer is in a hurry to break ground.
Planning Manager Vin Smith told the Commission that it would take six months to evaluate and develop rules and regulations for such solar projects.
Our valley is too beautiful to give in to threats from developers out to make a profit for their investors, some of whom do not even live in this county. Sonoma County and Solano County have demonstrated they care for their beautiful AG land by putting rules and regulations in place for solar projects. Follow their lead: a template in place for more than five years in and by Sonoma County exists.
Editor’s note: The Register asked the developer of the project about the issues raised in this and similar recent letters, and he sent the following response: “After 10+ years of work in the renewable energy field, this is an ideal site for local renewable energy generation in Napa County. It is at the end of American Canyon Road and adjacent to Highway I-80, with no visual impacts to neighbors (who have voiced their support for the project). We believe climate change is real and requires local solutions. We're proud that we can be part of the solution by powering 1,000 homes here locally through renewable energy.”