By Janis Mara
On a 7-0 vote, the commission approved the permit for a solar installation proposed by Crawford Cooley and Beverly Potter on their property, a former rock quarry in an isolated area just outside Novato. Nine people, including representatives of Sustainable Novato, the Marin Conservation League and a local union, spoke in favor of the project, and an Audubon Society representative voiced concerns but did not directly oppose the project.
The project encompasses 4,272 solar panels up to 6.5 feet high on 11.5 acres of the 952-acre quarry. The $6 million project will generate 1.98 megawatts of electricity, delivered to Marin Clean Energy via nearby power lines. The site, which is not visible from the road, is west of the city of Novato, east of Stafford Lake and about a mile north of Novato Boulevard.
The quarry was once mined for serpentine rock, which contains asbestos. Quarry operations shut down in 1990.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Roy Phillips, president of San Rafael-based REP Energy. Phillips will own and build the solar installation along with San Rafael-based Danlin Solar, leasing the land from Cooley and Potter.
“This shows that we can work together with environmental protection groups as a team to site successful solar projects,” Phillips said. Last year, a project in which Phillips was involved, a solar farm at Green Point Nursery that could have powered 200 Marin homes, was killed by the Marin Board of Supervisors amid a storm of protest from neighbors who said the panels would be unsightly.
“This is truly the ideal site,” Phillips said. “We can use this project as a model.”
The commissioners granted the permit with the conditions that chemicals not be used in cleaning the panels and that the equipment be removed and recycled when the project is decommissioned.
“If we’re going to do it, this is the time,” said Commissioner Don Dickenson.
Representatives of Marin Clean Energy testified that the project would become part of “Sol Shares,” which offers residents the chance to purchase 100 percent solar energy from a local solar farm in the company’s service area.
“Now local people can own a little piece of this project,” Phillips said.
Commissioner Peter Theran initially questioned whether the facility conformed to portions of the county’s general plan seeking to protect scenic views.
“I am a fellow hiker. I don’t think the countywide plan or design review guidelines mean we can’t see something. I don’t think a solar installation has an adverse effect (on views),” said Commissioner Katherine Crecelius.
“I want sustainable energy. I would like my daughter and her kids to have a place to live in generations to come,” said Valentin Beltran of Novato.
“We do support sustainable energy,” said Barbara Salzman of the Audubon Society. “We are concerned that the environmental impacts be addressed.” Salzman suggested that “it should be a condition of the permit that no chemicals be used in washing the panels,” and commissioners did add such a condition.
“We’re all proud of Marin’s landscape. We need to make sure that landscape can evolve to meet the shifting needs of the planet,” said Bill Carney of Sustainable San Rafael. “I am on the committee working to develop a solar ordinance for the county. We should not use that process as a fig leaf to avoid projects like these,” Carney said, referring to arguments made by some that decisions on projects should be deferred until an ordinance is in place.
“Climate change is not waiting,” Carney said. “We need to act.”