Get On Board for the Climate-Wanted: Ideal Sites for Solar Facilities

by Martha Walden, for 350 Humboldt

Public comment at the Planning Commission hearing on the first day of April revealed much county-wide enthusiasm for the 4 MW solar array proposed for the outskirts of Blue Lake. The locals, however, were more divided on the issue. Mixed feelings were apparent even within individual opponents, many of whom began their remarks with how much they support solar energy, BUT . . . . 

The most serious objection is about using 26 acres of prime river-bottom ag land. Many of the project opponents asked why the solar developers didn’t choose an old mill site or a brownfield. The developer, Renewable Properties, stated that it searched extensively for such a site; however, any place that was suitable was not available. Two of the old mill site owners sent letters to the Planning Commission to confirm their lack of interest. 

The owner of the chosen field near Blue Lake currently uses it to pasture cows and will continue to do so on the portion of the land outside of the solar panel enclosure. Inside the enclosure, sheep will be able to graze on the vegetation growing between the panels. Also, the Pollinator Partnership will establish a bee-friendly mixture of plants after the installation of the panels, and a local beekeeper has been invited to keep hives there. 

Renewable Properties has a decommissioning plan in place for thirty-five years from project completion. The promise is to leave the place in at least as good condition as it is now. However, the developers may seek an extension at the end of their lease. 

The Planning Commission approved the project with only one dissenting vote. Though I’m glad the project got the green light, I agree that using prime ag land for solar development is not a good precedent. The agro-voltaic approach is a substantial compensation, but brownfields and old mill sites seem like better places for large-scale solar. Perhaps the Planning Department should do the research and maintain a list of sites where solar projects could be ideally sited. SOMEONE should. That would be so much smarter than leaving everything up to the roving forces of capitalism. 

Even though solar technology is rapidly expanding and becoming more efficient at a cheaper cost, it furnishes only 2% of the world’s energy. It will take a staggering amount of clean energy infrastructure to replace fossil fuels. Also, we have to be more careful about what we use to replace fossil fuels. Wood is a renewable fuel, but it emits more carbon than coal. 

Unfortunately, all the solar panels and wind turbines in the world have yet to decrease the amount of fossil fuels consumed. That’s because the global demand for energy keeps growing. In the name of environmental justice, poor countries deserve all the energy they can get, but our goose is cooked if it’s not clean energy. As for those of us in the developed countries, we could be most helpful by consuming less.