Actually, the debate has been civil and constructive.
It all comes to a head tomorrow. Benicia City Council will hear the case and take a vote at it’s virtual meeting Tuesday, July 7. Our Planning Commission denied the project in May, but that decision was appealed to the City Council by the project sponsor, Renewable Properties.
Here are two well reasoned opinions. You decide, and let the City Council know what you think.
Support, by Larnie Fox
Council Members ~
I’m writing to ask you to vote to approve the proposed 35 acre solar array on Lake Herman Road.
As you all know, climate change is a serious and growing threat to all people, so we all have a responsibility to help counter it. When people say “think globally, act locally” this is exactly the sort of action they are talking about. While no one wants to lose open space, obtaining enough clean energy for 1,700 Benicia households is a big step in the right direction.
My wife and I walked to the area in question. It is not useful for recreation. The livestock currently grazing there will still have access to 54 acres of the 89 acre parcel after the solar panels are installed. We were glad to see that the plans call for planting native trees and plants that will mostly screen the site from view. They also call for creating a pollinator plant meadow which will increase local biodiversity. Personally, I like seeing solar panels because I know the good they are doing.
It would be preferable to install solar panels on homes and businesses, over parking lots and even over roads. However – we are clearly not there yet, and we need to take action now. Waiting a year or two is not acceptable.
There is a concern that approval of this project will create an open door for other, less desirable, development in our designated open space areas ~ so I hope Council will take care to ensure that no such loopholes are created as you approve this important project.
I’d like the City to take a more proactive and visionary leadership approach to opportunities like this. For example, could the City identify asphalt-covered terrain, roofs in the Industrial Park, or other possible mixed-use sites where responsible companies like Renewable Properties could install solar arrays? Could the City actively facilitate partnerships between solar or wind energy providers and local businesses to encourage clean energy development?
For now, I feel that the imperative to address the climate crisis and lower our carbon footprint needs to take precedence over protecting this small parcel of open space.
Let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Opposition, by Don Dean
I see that the Lake Herman solar project is on the agenda for next week’s City Council meeting. I haven’t changed my stance on the project; I still think it’s a good project in the wrong location, and that the Planning Commission did the right thing in denying it. I’m all for solar power and fighting climate change, and so is everybody I know. But that doesn’t mean that every solar project is a good one. There are three issues here.
The first issue is designated Open Space and how we value it–or we don’t. Notice I capitalized Open Space. This is an official City designation. The solar project is proposed on City-designated Open Space land. So it’s not just undeveloped land waiting for an acceptable use to come along; in this case it’s specifically designated in Benicia’s General Plan to remain open for agricultural or recreational uses. The State of California considers Open Space important enough that it mandates an Open Space element be included in each city’s General Plan. With the pandemic we’re all involved in, open space has become more important than ever for our exercise, recreation, and sanity. With options for travel limited now, I find I drive Lake Herman Road more than ever and appreciate the vistas more than ever.
Second, this is about more than just one project on Lake Herman Road. The proposed zoning change necessary for the project would apply to about 159 parcels (2,000+acres) spread throughout Benicia. There has been no real analysis of how many other solar facilities could be constructed or where those might occur. The City has relied on a study by the applicant that asserts the number of solar-developable parcels would be very small. But that analysis doesn’t seem to have been independently verified. If the City is serious about solar development in Open Space areas, let’s have a community discussion about how and where solar is appropriate rather than make the decision based on approving one project.
Third, this is an industrial-scale solar project. It will blanket 35 acres with wall-to-wall panels. It belongs in an industrial area. The Benicia Climate Action Plan calls for solar development at large parking lot sites belonging to Amports, Valero, and the City. As far as I know, no one has approached Amports or Valero about adding solar arrays to their property. Not only would this generate power, but it would reduce the heat island effect from acres of asphalt. Shouldn’t we be looking for solar in these already developed areas rather than converting our Open Space to industrial uses and building outside the Urban Growth Boundary? Isn’t planning about being proactive for the future and protecting our existing resources?
I understand the urgency some people feel about getting a major solar facility to combat climate change, but this issue of solar development versus Open Space is a false choice. I don’t see why we need to sacrifice one to gain the other. Bottom line—I think this is a good project in the wrong place. I don’t think the project should be approved.
You already have my letter to the Planning Commission that lays out some of the more technical points of the discussion. Feel free to share this email.