Marin’s airport land commission clears solar project for takeoff
By Richard Halsted (Marin Independent Journal)
A three-megawatt solar facility that will generate enough electricity to power 800 homes proposed on two vacant lots adjacent to Gnoss Field in unincorporated Novato was cleared for takeoff by the county’s Airport Land Use Commission on Monday.
The county Planning Commission, which serves as the Airport Land Use Commission, reviewed the project and confirmed that it is consistent with the airport land use plan.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued its determination that the project would not be a hazard to air navigation in December 2018 following the conclusion of an aeronautical study.
The airport commission was required to approve the project since it will be located within portions of the approach zone and traffic zones of the airfield. Structures are allowed within an approach or a clear zone so long as they don’t create any new hazard to navigation based on aeronautical study by the FAA.
The proposed solar facility will consist of three ground mounted fixed-tilt arrays and will result in a total acreage of nearly 15 acres of solar arrays spread across about 41 acres.
San Rafael-based MCE, formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, has contracted to buy the electricity produced at the site, thus supplying the capital for its construction.
Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties, the developer of the project, said, “Renewable Properties has many projects under development with Marin Clean Energy.”
No issues relevant to aviation were raised during the hearing; however, some other concerns were aired.
“We have a problem with the processing or the lack thereof of this project,” said Susan Stompe, a Marin Conservation League board member.
“This is a good sized project and the county does not have a solar standard for building things,” Stompe said. “The Marin Conservation League feels that you really do need to have some standards for solar development.”
Stompe noted that the land where the solar facility will be built is zoned for agricultural use.
Rene Silveira, who owns the land together with her mother, said, “This project helps us. We need revenue streams. Agriculture is very difficult for us. We have a very old facility. We had to close our dairy in 2014 when we were in the throes of eminent domain up there.”
Marin County Planning Manager Jeremy Tejirian said, “This issue of having solar specific standards has been discussed ad nauseam for years. It was addressed in 2016 when we amended the development code.”
Tejirian said in a place like Marin which has multiple community plans, each with its own set of policies, “It is very difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all set of design standards that specifically relate to solar.”
Commissioner David Paoli asked, “Is there an issue of glare, since the highway is so close?”
Halimi said his company commissioned a study that confirmed that there is no glare hazard associated with the project.
“Solar farms near airports make a lot of sense, Halimi said. “Solar farms are a low-impact development and there tends to be ample underutilized land surrounding airports.”
He added, “Climate change is a global problem that requires local solutions. This project is an opportunity for Marin County to be part of the solution.”