SodaCanyonRoad | The solar powered landscape

The solar powered landscape

Bill Hocker | Oct 12, 2018 on: Growth Issues

Update 10/10/18

The second solar farm currently being proposed in the county will be up before the planning commission on Oct. 17th 2018. The agenda and documents are here.

The neg-dec notice is here. Less than significant impacts as usual. It will cover a hillside in the bucolic, actual American Canyon between Hwy 80 and the AmCan High School. Given the route, a viable alternative connection between Hwys 80 and 29, remaining a piece of the county’s unpretentious ranch landscape was not in the cards. It might have become another vanity vineyard, but in this corner of the county closer to a freeway, the most profitable crop seems to be the guiding principle. If the County is willing to consider solar power plants as an acceptable use on ag lands, there are 45000 acres of land in the county already cleared with the intention of soaking up the sun waiting to be developed into more profitable use.

According to one website, leasing farmland for solar collectors might produce a net profit of "somewhere between $21,250 and $42,500 per acre on an annual basis". Compare that to the $7000/ton x 4 ton/acre = $28,000/acre gross revenue from vines in Napa County. With costs of perhaps $16000/acre that would leave $12000/acre/yr net profit, far below the money to be made from a solar farm. While not every farmer would be interested in doubling their income by converting to solar power, there is definitely an incentive to do so.

There is a real need for the County to develop a policy and ordinances for solar development before any projects are considered for approval. This question needs to to be answered first: why should agriculturally zoned land, the "highest and best use of the land" in the County's oft-touted phrase, be used for power plants rather than relegating such an expansive industrial use to industrially zoned land?

This illustration shows the size of the American Canyon solar array (18 acres large) in comparison to the ultimate Napa Logistics buildout. The array is about 3/4 the area of the largest building in the complex. The County should ask why solar collection can't be incorporated into industrial or commercial uses to offset the costs of both, as rooftop or parking lot installations (as in the Gasser HQ parking lot)? Would it not make sense to initially target large solar power projects for the industrial areas and uses that need generous amounts of power to operate, and leave ag lands for ag uses?

The NFRSP group has published a statement opposing the project on the NV2050 website here:
Planning Commission: Wait! We need a plan on solar before we set any precedents!

Update 9/30/18
Laura TInthoff LTE 9/30/18: Keep our valley bucolic: No on Palm Drive solar

Update 9/20/18

Another community group has formed to oppose the urbanization of the "agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure", this time to prevent a wooded hillside in Coombsville from becoming a power plant.

It is Napa Residents for Smart Planning…No on Palm Drive Solar.

Their very well done website does a good job of showing how inappropriate such an industrial project can be to a rural landscape.

The red splotches are stands of oak woodlands to be removed. Given the concerns raised by the Measure C campaign over the last year it is a bit shocking that a company would have the hubris to push forward such an industrial use of Napa's oak woodlands. The plan is one of the documents on the County's Palm Drive Solar page.

Update 7/24/18
This photo comes from the County's Draft Climate Action Plan. While intended to show the laudable use of solar energy for power generation it also raises (unintentionally, I assume) the issue of the highest and best use of Napa's agricultural land - for crops or solar collectors. That issue is already before us in the Coombsville solar farm proposal below. Solar arrays, if they are to become a credible substitute for existing power will require a lot of land. Now should be the time that appropriate restrictions are placed in their location so that desirable land for agriculture and viewshed preservation are not lost before we wake up to the problem. Limiting them to the industrially zoned parcels in the south county (in lieu of or atop all those GHG-generating concrete boxes and their parking lots perhaps) is a better solution.

Update 7/18/18
NVR 7/18/18: Proposed utility solar farm in Napa's Coombsville neighborhood becomes a hot topic

As previously said, time for a solar array ordinance.

NVR LTE 7/16/18: Solar project is not right for Coombsville
NVR LTE 7/13/18: Wrong site for solar project

NVR 7/11/18: Two proposed Napa County solar projects would power 2,000 homes

It is appropriate to ask why a major solar panel installation is being proposed in a rural residential neighborhood and requiring the removal of oak woodlands rather than in the industrial zoned areas of the county, perhaps shading some of the mega parking lots to be built there.

Solar panels may slow down the suicide of the human species but they are not neighborhood or viewshed friendly. Fortunately a review by the planning commission at an as yet unspecified date will give the community a chance to weigh in on this very inappropriate site.

The County's page on the Palm Drive Solar farm

Update 4/25/18
NVR 4/25/18: Gateway to the city of Napa getting stealth solar farm
Exactly the solution needed for the Rector dam corporation yard!

NVR 3/17/18: State wants half-acre solar array along Napa's Silverado Trail

The Trail is already filling up with garish homes and event centers and parking lots and left turn bumps and now the indignity of an industrial power plant.

It's churlish, and un-PC, to bad-mouth solar power. But we should recognize, as solar power provides more and more of our energy, that solar collectors are attractive only in their novelty and their benefit toward prolonging life on earth. In fact they are little different in appearance than a full parking lot.

As every home and business begins to burden the landscape with an array, the landscape will suffer. We see even now the jarring apparition of arrays climbing the hillsides behind homes and wineries, with little thought about their visual impact, but much admiration for the "green" commitment of their owners. And large solar arrays, as with the half acre at Rector, are significant money makers that will further speed their adoption, particularly in areas with a lot of open space - like Napa. It is really time for a solar array ordinance to "mitigate" (I would prefer "eliminate") their visual impacts going forward.

About the Rector array: this is an ideal opportunity to propose a 6-8' berm (a modest bit of earthwork perhaps garnished with vines) at the front of the property to hide both the panels and the corporation yard with its industrial detritus. It could be constructed perhaps with a bit of the 1400 acre feet of silt washed down from the vineyard development in the hills that currently diminishes the capacity of the reservoir. A definite win-win for all.