Lisa Hirayama letter on solar projects
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Bill Hocker | Oct 18, 2018

Lisa Hirayama has written a good letter (as usual) to the Planning Commission concerning the 2 proposed solar projects in Coombsville and American Canyon:

Dear Planning Commissioners,

I am deeply concerned about the prospect of placing large commercial solar panel arrays in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The two projects presented by the developer, Renewable Properties, and currently under consideration by Napa County Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors are the Palm Drive Solar Project and the American Canyon Solar Project.

Planning Staff has agreed that “the magnitude of this project is beyond the scope of our zoning regulations.” The proposed solar projects, while presented as a utility, in reality, would be privately run manufacturing facilities that transform sunlight into electricity which is transferred to the grid. These projects are truly incompatible to the beauty, biodiversity and bucolic nature of the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve zones. The destruction of native mature oak trees whose ability to capture water and nurture species’ habitats is unacceptable, especially in this age of climate change. Removing oak trees and replacing them with solar panels that change the microclimates are counter intuitive to Napa County’s and the community’s concerns about climate change. The County hasn’t explored and doesn’t have the expertise to make decisions about the health and safety impacts of this type of technology to be constructed on this proposed scale in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The Palm Drive project will have significant and permanent negative impacts on the aesthetic, economic and environmental qualities of Napa County. The removal of 3.5 hillside acres of mature blue oaks for non-agricultural, private financial gain will have a deplorable impact on the viewshed and impinge on the quality of life for that neighborhood and potentially Napa County. This proposed project would set a precedent for similar developments on non-cultivatable land for the entire county. There is nothing about this site location that is good for our environment, quality of life, or our economy.

The American Canyon site appears to be more suitable for this type of project, but it is also located in the Ag Watershed. Approval of this project will set a very alarming precedent for future projects in all of Napa County. I believe that citizens need to have a voice in this issue. I am not opposed to all commercial solar, but Napa County has no regulations in place for a project that is expected to last thirty years. The Winery Definition Ordinance was created to define, refine and regulate wineries. The Conservation Regulations were created to regulate vineyard development. Why should solar farms be any different? Neighboring counties have created ordinances or taken a stand on this matter. Napa County is ripe for commercial solar development and the long - term consequences of this decision haven’t been thoroughly considered.

Marin County Supervisors made a decision on solar energy recently, and I believe that Napa County is in the exact same position with regard to these two solar projects. The Marin County Supervisors made their decision based on the very point that Marin County is not equipped to make this decision. Napa County’s current zoning regulations don’t address or provide for consideration of this kind of project in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

Sonoma County, which is significantly larger than Napa County, has reviewed their zoning regulations with regard to solar in their valleys and on their hillsides. They’ve drafted their zoning ordinance to address the issues that solar brings to the forefront. They’re similar to Napa County in that they have as much natural beauty to protect and preserve and as much to lose by not doing so.

Napa County is allowing more and more development into the hillsides which equates into removal of mature oak woodlands. Walt Ranch is already one devastating environmental project that has been approved by the County with little regard for neighbors or water issues. The Palm Drive project will open the doors for more financial projects into the hillsides and watersheds when consideration should be given to saving mature trees, not cutting them down.

The Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors should NOT create a precedent by approving or recommending either of these projects without taking an opportunity to appropriately revise county zoning regulations. With no ordinance yet in place for a project of this magnitude, this project is detrimental to many residents and the agricultural land itself. To name a few problems: there is no minimum parcel size, no setbacks, no limits on percentage of parcel coverage, no viewshed protections, and the long term implications of this type of decision have yet to be considered.

I encourage the County, as it redrafts the Climate Action Plan, to initiate and develop solar power that is generated on site and remains within our region. County owned rooftops, parking lots and the Napa County Airport are just a few examples of the many suitable sites for solar panels in which the county government could take the lead. It is our elected and appointed officials, rather than private individuals, corporations and developers, who should be accountable for creating regulations with substantial input from citizens.

The Napa County General Plan states that “Napa County will be a place where agriculture is the primary land use and where a vast majority of the county is open space....” The Renewable Properties solar farm proposals are inconsistent with the General Plan and should be denied for that reason and far more. Until county zoning regulations are revised to incorporate solar farms, approval for these projects should be denied or postponed.

Lisa Hirayama

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