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Ban on large green energy projects returns to board

FAIRFIELD – Solano County supervisors on Tuesday could extend a temporary ban on new, commercial-scale solar and wind energy projects for another year.

The county has a policy of supporting renewable energy projects and has allowed several hundred mammoth, electricity generating wind turbines in the rural Montezuma Hills. But the Board of Supervisors passed a 45-day temporary ban in November 2013 and a 10-month ban in December 2013.

Supervisors wanted to buy time to sort out how new projects might affect Travis Air Force Base and agriculture. They’ll decide whether to stay the course when they meet at 9 a.m. at the county Government Center, 675 Texas St.

The county Airport Land Use Commission is overseeing a Travis Air Force Base Land Use Compatibility Plan update that is to be finished in September 2015. That update is to look at some issues that have come up in recent years concerning large renewable energy projects and the base.

Base officials in 2007 revealed that the spinning turbines in the Montezuma Hills can affect base radar. Wind companies and the base worked on solutions that allowed continued wind energy development, but the question remains how many more turbines can be erected before radar problems arise.

Gestamp Solar in 2013 proposed building a 154-acre solar energy facility on farmland 2 miles north of Travis Air Force Base. Base officials said that glare from a large number of solar panels could affect aviation.

Supervisors also wanted to explore establishing policies for commercial-scale solar facilities in relation to farming, especially when large expanses of solar panels are proposed to cover prime farmland. Agriculture is a $348-million-a-year industry in the county, according to the latest county crop report.

The county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee is exploring commercial-scale solar energy facility policies that could be ready for county Planning Commission consideration in a few months, a county report said.

Yet another factor in the county’s temporary ban is the opening in 2013 of a Travis Air Force Base C-17 assault landing strip on the east side of the base. Jets using the strip practice low-altitude maneuvers that could be used while landing and taking off under fire in areas of the world such as Afghanistan.

The temporary ban also prohibits new wireless communications facilities that are more than 200 feet tall.

Two parties have approached the county about having exceptions to the temporary ban, should the board decide to renew it, a county report said. County planning officials want guidance from the Board of Supervisors.

SolAgra has approached the county about building a $2.5 billion, 3.5-square-mile solar energy project on Ryer Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It wants permission to proceed with a pilot project on the island to show that crops can grow and harvesting equipment can be run under the solar panels.

This pilot project would have solar panels put up on 2.5 acres, with another 5 acres being farmed without panels as a control group. Researchers from the University of California, Davis would supervise the project. The research area would include modular offices and a parking area.

NextEra Energy wants to replace a fire-damaged wind turbine in the Montezuma Hills. However, the model of the damaged turbine is no longer being manufactured and the proposed new turbine would be taller, 440 feet compared to 351 feet from base to the top of an upturned blade, the county report said.

Travis Air Force Base officials have said that the proposed exceptions wouldn’t conflict with base operations, the report said.

If supervisors want to proceed, they could vote on the proposed exceptions late this month or in November.