On 12/5/18 the Planning Commission returns to render their verdict with a full contingent after the 2-2 split decision on 11/28/18. The property is currently generating income for its owners as a horse and animal farm. Will Comm. Hansen vote for the further urban development of working ag lands? Or will the county decide in its wisdom direct staff to propose regulations for this new land use before rather than after the fact?
At the 11/28/18 Planning Commission meeting, the motion to approve the AmCan Solar project was split with Comms. Whitmer, and Mazotti for, and Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell against. Comm Hansen was absent. County Council indicated that given the tie the project must be agendized for the next meeting when the 5th member will be present. The project has been put on the Dec 5th agenda.
I'm a bit confused by the policy regarding a tie. In the Girard project, a 2-2 tie was interpreted as a loss of the motion. In the first ALUC hearing on the Palmaz heliport, the ALUC board split 3-3 and the hearing was renoticed for a future meeting. There had to be some clarification on this because the ALUC policy was different than the Planning Commission policy. Perhaps the Planning Commission policy changed? Comm Gallagher asked at the time, why would a hearing be scheduled if the members present are potentially not capable to make a binding decision. Good question.
Update 11/20/18 Planning Commission hearing on project 11/28/18
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. Sonoma County already has an ordinance. 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?