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Solano County’s solar, wind moratorium continues

Solano County extended its ordinance on prohibiting commercial renewable energy and wireless communication facilities exceeding 200 feet in height in the unincorporated area of the county, but its already looking into making exceptions for certain proposals.

Tuesday, the Solano County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted an urgency measure extending an interim ordinance for an additional one-year period in response to possible impacts to Travis Air Force Base’s radar operation and the new C-17 Assault Landing Zone resulting from new commercial-scale wind energy and wireless communication facilities, and the conversion of agricultural land resulting from solar energy development in the county.

Wireless communication facilities below 200 feet in height and collocation of existing wireless facilities were not included in the interim ordinance, according to county staff.

Director of Resource Management Bill Emlen explained that the extension allows the county and other agencies, including Travis to study and try to address the issues relative to the ordinance.

The county’s General Plan contains policies supporting green energy development, however, the plan also identified policies that include the protection of Travis Air Force Base and its mission as it evolves over time and protection of the county’s valuable agricultural lands.

“Both are potentially threatened by increased renewable energy development,” staff noted in a report to the board. “Adoption of a second extension to the interim ordinance provides a window of opportunity to focus on completing plan and ordinance updates, without having to spend significant time on bringing projects filed to hearing for entitlement action and avoids the risks of approving a project that ultimately is in conflict with the land use plan updates.”

Additionally, the board directed staff to come back with more information about two requests for exceptions to the ordinance.

While the board agreed that a request to replace one wind turbine would be easy to approve, a request for an agricultural research facility demonstration project that would apply the results of a University of California, Davis pilot project would need more extensive research.

NextEra Energy, which has three wind turbine facilities in the county, requested to replace one fire-damaged wind turbine with one that is taller than the previous one in the High Winds project area located in the Montezuma Hills area of the county. NextEra noted that the type of wind turbine is no longer manufactured, so the next comparable turbine available is 88.5-feet taller at 426 feet tall.

The second exception is promoted by SolAgra, a firm that has presented to the board previously an interest in construction of a large commercial-scale solar project on Ryer Island. The exception request would allow an agricultural research facility demonstration project that would apply the results of a University of California, Davis pilot project involving the “simultaneous use of agricultural land for crop production and commercial solar energy production.” The exception would involve approximately 10 acres on Ryer Island on agricultural land zoned “exclusive agricultural” that is outside the Airport Influence Area for Travis AFB. In a report to the board, staff explained that 2.5 acres would be devoted to solar panels, 5 acres to a control plot and remaining acreage devoted to a manufacture office building, septic system and parking.

Supervisor Skip Thomson explained that in the past he has supported a pilot program, but one that was much smaller in scale.

“We agreed to 2.5 to 5 acres,” he said and added that he’s not “enthusiastic” about the larger scale plan. He urged the proponents, who he said sent him an e-mail requesting the pilot program be as much as 27 acres, to keep their word and stick to the original plan.

Emlen explained that the board can consider the two exception requests separately and that he’ll bring more information to the board at a later meeting.