By Janis Mara, Marin IJ
Roy Phillips, president of REP Energy, leads a tour of an abandoned quarry on June 9 in Novato. His company, REP Energy, wants to build a solar energy facility at the site near the McIsaac Dairy west of Novato. The quarry, no longer in use, was mined for the mineral serpentine, a source of asbestos. (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)
A proposed solar facility just outside Novato that could generate enough electricity to power more than 500 Marin homes is up for approval at the Marin Planning Commission meeting Monday.
Located on the isolated grounds of a former rock quarry, the solar farm would have 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.
The quarry was once mined for serpentine rock, which contains asbestos. Quarry operations shut down in 1990.
Installations like the solar project “are a good way to use formerly disturbed locations” like the quarry, said Andrew Campbell, the executive director of the Energy Institute at Haas, a research and teaching facility at the University of California at Berkeley.
Campbell said the proposed location also was beneficial because it is close to the people who would use the energy.
“Having the generation close to an area where consumers are also has benefits, since some power is lost when it is transmitted over long distances,” the executive director said.
The site is west of the city of Novato, east of Stafford Lake and about a mile north of Novato Boulevard. It is not visible from the road. County staff has recommended that the permit be granted, with some qualifications.
Crawford Cooley and Beverly Potter, who own the former quarry, would lease the land to San Rafael-based Danlin Solar, along with San Rafael-based REP Energy. Those two companies would own and build the solar installation.
“That’s a pretty typical arrangement,” Campbell said.
“Solar is a green energy source, no doubt about it. There is no pollution or greenhouse gas emitted at the place where you are generating the power,” the executive director said.
“This would be quite a win if it happened. The people who are very concerned about seeing beautiful agricultural land taken up with solar panels have a valid point. You’d hate to lose a lot of natural Marin. That makes this an ideal project because it’s sitting in an abandoned quarry essentially on bare rock,” said Bob Spofford, vice president of Sustainable San Rafael.
“Solar is in some ways the most ideal of all alternative energy because it doesn’t make noise, it doesn’t pollute, it produces power close to the time when it’s most needed, and it does not harm wildlife,” said Spofford.
Addressing Spofford’s last point, “Photovoltaic panels definitely do not kill birds,” said Michael D. McGehee, a Stanford University associate professor and a senior fellow at the university’s Precourt Institute for Energy. McGehee teaches classes on solar cells. Wind turbines such as the ones at Altamont do pose a danger to avian life, perhaps causing some to confuse the effects of this alternative energy source with those of solar, McGehee said.
No letters of opposition to the project had been received by the staff by Friday.
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 the California Environmental Quality Act 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.
If the permit is granted, construction could begin as early as mid-August and wrap up by November, according to Frank Gobar of Danlin Solar.