SodaCanyonRoad | The solar powered landscape

The solar powered landscape
Bill Hocker | Apr 22, 2022 on: Solar Farming

Update 4/22/22
A private residential solar panel project is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission on 5/4/22. The documents are here. It is only on the PC docket because exemptions are needed for construction on slopes over 30%, not because of its visual impact on the environment.

The fuzzy photo at the right shows what the installation (top arrow) might look like from the center of the valley. It may be more or less visible. It might be darker or brighter (especially if the sun reflects off it.) I am not creating it to object to this particular project but to show that solar projects do have a visual impact that are at odds with the natural landscape. It is an impact that should be considered as more and more of these project are proposed. The bottom arrow shows an existing array.

The use of solar power, of course, is necessary if we are to meet climate GHG reduction goals in this climate crisis. But the glut in solar power that already exists shows that the ultimate solution is in large scale storage and distribution rather than more individual solar arrays. And there are impacts in building thousands of private arrays, particularly potential visual impacts in a county that derives some of its income from the appreciation of the natural beauty of its environment. Thus far the discussions on solar power have not highlighted visual impacts.

The county seems at the moment to have shelved the proposed ordinance on renewable energy systems, including individual and large-scale solar arrays, in the county. The last action the BOS took regarding that ordinance was to ban solar farms on ag or residential land until the ordinance could be finalized.

Even if it were in effect, the proposed ordinance does not address the visual implications of projects. This is a negligent omission. At the least they should be regulated specifically under the county's view-shed ordinance which would apply to slopes under 30% as well and require planting to screen the view. Until the county does so, there should also be a moratorium on private deployment as well. (Unfortunately the view-shed ordinance seems to be doing little to prevent visible development defacing hillside views, but that's another discussion...)

In crafting zoning ordinances, there is a government obligation to consider the maximum impact that the zoning will permit. Not to do so is cumulative negligence. As the panoramic wetland and vineyard entry to wine country is now being converted to an alley of warehouses, that negligence is upon us. In the battles over winery development, the County was asked to consider the cumulative-impact question: what if every property that is allowed to have a winery builds a winery. The attitude seemed to be that ain't gonna happen, trust us. As I look at the winery approvals at our Soda Canyon Road junction their blasé attitude is definitely beginning to look like cumulative negligence.

So with solar arrays: what if every homeowner builds a solar array on the hillside above their house. There are implications to the visual character of the bucolic landscape that we and visitors treasure. That implication needs to be vetted before the county begins issuing permits, lest it become another example of cumulative negligence in the county's stewardship.

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!

Update 3/17/18
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 and potential consumption of ag land 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.