Editorial: Caveats to proposed green energy moratorium

November 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Last week, Solano County supervisors imposed a 45-day moratorium on the development of any new commercial solar, wind or “wireless communication” projects in the county and agreed to revisit the subject on Dec. 3, apparently with the intent of extending the prohibition for another two years.

While there are valid concerns about these types of projects, the board should consider carefully whether extending a moratorium for 24 months throughout the entire county is warranted.

The main reason the issue came up is the legitimate desire to protect Travis Air Force Base. Recently, the base added an assault landing zone — an unimproved strip where pilots can practice under conditions that they may find in war zones. The approach, however, may conflict with a proposal to build more wind turbines outside the base.

It’s not just that the turbines may be too tall for low-flying aircraft. Windmills already in the area have proved problematic, as their movement registers on radar screens in the Travis control tower. Travis has been able to work around the issue so far, but there is a legitimate question about the effect of even more turbines.

Solar panels are of concern because of the potential for glare to affect a pilot’s vision. At the last minute, the board added cellular towers out of an abundance of concern for their potential effect on electronic equipment on the planes and at the base.

With Travis providing jobs for more than 13,400 people and making a $1.66 billion economic impact on the Solano region, supervisors are right to want to protect the base’s ability to fulfill its mission.

The other industry the county has said it wants to protect is agriculture — a $342.7 million Solano business last year. Commercial wind and solar projects typically need a lot of space, and agricultural land offers that.

County staff members have suggested the rules now in place be re-examined and, if necessary, rewritten to ensure that prime farmland and Travis Air Force Base are sufficiently protected. They estimate the process will take two years.

But to put the brakes on green energy now could derail a viable local industry just as it is building momentum. Energy projects take months, if not years, to gather all of the necessary approvals. Companies may not be willing to wait another two years to see what rules the county comes up with

And, really, why should they? In its report to the board, county staff acknowledged that green energy development in Solano has been “robust” during the past decade, which means it was going strong when the county updated its general plan in 2008. Outside of the Travis situation, what has changed so significantly since then?

At any rate, it shouldn’t take two years to rework regulations that were put into place only five years ago. Supervisors must insist that county staff expedite any updating process.

The board should also consider whether the entire county must be included in this moratorium. Some enterprising company may propose a green energy project — or a cell tower — on a county site that isn’t on prime farmland or anywhere near Travis. Such a project shouldn’t have to wait for a hearing.

Americans have been complaining for decades about our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Green energy is one way of breaking that dependence.

With Solano’s access to the raw materials — abundant sunshine and wind — it could be a major producer.

And maybe, someday, it will be the industry supervisors will be trying to protect.

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