Planning commissioners, environmentalists, a city official and members of the public clambered over the rocks at an isolated quarry northwest of Novato Monday, touring a proposed solar facility that could generate enough electricity to power more than 500 Marin homes.
The tour had moments of comedy, as when the breeze from a nearby dairy farm wafted over the group of about 25 people. The quarry was once mined for serpentine rock, which contains asbestos. Quarry operations shut down in 1990.
Crawford Cooley and Beverly Potter, owners of the former quarry, applied for a permit for 4,272 solar panels up to 6 and a half feet high on 11.5 acres of the 952-acre quarry. The $6 million project would generate 1.98 megawatts of electricity, delivered to Marin Clean Energy via nearby power lines.
“Since this is an old quarry, it (the solar farm) seems like an ideal use of a property that does not lend itself to any other applications. It’s tucked away from everything,” said Frank Gobar. His company, San Rafael-based Danlin Solar, along with San Rafael-based REP Energy, would own and build the solar installation, leasing the land from the owners.
The site is west of the city of Novato, east of Stafford Lake and about a mile north of Novato Boulevard. County staff has recommended that the permit be granted, with some qualifications.
The planning commission is holding a public hearing on the matter June 23 to get public input and decide whether to grant the permit. Monday’s tour gave the commissioners a chance to see the place up front, close and personal.
If the permit is granted, construction could begin as early as mid-August and wrap up by November, according to Gobar.
“I think it’s a great idea, a great way to generate jobs,” said John McEntagart, a Sonoma County resident, who attended the tour. “Local workers, local hire.” McEntagart said he has friends and family in Marin.
The state Office of Mines Reclamation and the Department of Public works oversaw the reclamation of the land since the 1990s, according to the county staff report. The project is exempt from CEQA because it will not cause environmental impacts, the staff report said.
“My job is to work with clients to help them avoid environmental impacts,” said Dana Riggs, a project biologist with San Rafael-based WRA Environmental Consultants. “We planned it (the project) in a manner to avoid impacts on sensitive resources including species and habitat,” Riggs said.
Novato City Councilwoman Pat Eklund attended the tour Monday. She said she felt the solar project was a policy issue.
“This field trip reinforces for me that there needs to be a county policy on when solar units are put in the natural landscape versus the built environment,” Eklund said.
“When you put solar on a roof, that area has development on it already. So it has less of an impact on the environment. Whereas if you put solar in open space or on a farm, it causes more environmental impacts than if you put it over a parking lot or on a building,” Eklund said.
“It could have significant visual impact if it was on a more visible piece of property. Fortunately, that piece of property is a little insulated,” said Eklund. “For me, that’s a policy issue that needs to be decided before major solar farms are installed in our natural environment.”
“The Marin Conservation League has adopted some standards for solar in general,” said Susan Stompe, a member of the board of directors of the League, an environmental group, who also attended the tour.
“Our concern, as with Green Point, is that the county should have an ordinance to define what the requirements should be, and now they are processing another proposal” for a solar installation, Stompe said. “We would prefer that they adopt an ordinance.”
Such an ordinance would be easily two years in the making and would likely kill the present proposed facility.
Green Point was a proposed solar energy farm that was denied a permit by county supervisors in August 2013 when neighbors lobbied vigorously against it based on what they deemed the unattractive appearance of the solar panels.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m for green energy, but I don’t want a solar farm in my backyard,” said David McLaughlin, one of about 100 neighbors who attended the supervisors’ meeting at which that facility was defeated.