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Sutter County solar proposal draws heat
• Would feature individual solar modules designed to track the sun throughout the day. They will have an area of about 50 square feet and a maximum height of 17 feet.
• Proposed to be set back a minimum of 50 feet from all property lines.
• Proposed to be enclosed by a 10-foot-tall chain-link fence.
• Anticipated to operate for at least 33 years.
A proposed solar project on agricultural land northwest of Yuba City has some residents wondering if the ground could be put to better use.
New West Renewable Resources LLC, a Los Angeles-based solar energy company, is seeking a permit that would allow construction of a 37-megawatt solar generating facility on a 260-acre site at North Township and Nuestro roads.
Sutter County planners recommended approval of the project in December. After delaying action once, Sutter County supervisors will consider it again at their March 26 meeting.
According to Sutter County documents, New West claims the project would provide electricity to the Yuba City area and reduce the amount of power that is required to be imported by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — the company to which New West would sell energy.
New West spokeswoman Rhonda Mills said the facility would also create about 100 jobs during construction — lasting about one year — and three full-time equivalent positions after its completion. Additionally, the panels could provide up to 40 percent of Yuba City's power, she said, although it wouldn't save the city any money.
Yuba City official Darin Gale said he could not confirm New West's estimates.
Mike Geraldo was one of the two planning commissioners who voted against the solar panels when the proposal was brought before the planning commission. He was for it at first, he said, noting the importance of jobs in the community.
However, Geraldo had a change of heart once he visited the site.
"I put my hand through that soil, and it's the most beautiful, most rich soil to grow," he said.
The land there would serve the community better if it was growing food, Geraldo said. He noted that Sutter County's General Plan repeatedly calls for its officials to protect and promote agriculture.
Mills said New West has planned to use the land for agriculture and renewable energy purposes.
"One of the reasons we chose that site — and there were many — is because it is co-use," Mills said.
Even as the company tries to obtain a use permit, the project is in its general planning stages, she said. And there have been talks of growing crops or keeping small flocks of sheep at the property, in addition to maintaining a solar facility.
"We want to be good neighbors," Mills said.
Planning Commissioner Angel Diaz voted to approve the facility in December, along with two other commissioners, because it meets all of the county's requirements, he said.
Diaz, like Geraldo, initially wondered whether the land could be put to better use.
"The thing that swayed me was the use of agriculture," he said.
Additionally, Diaz said the facility could be taken down at the end of its 33-year lease without causing much harm to the land.
Mills said the solar panels would have a maximum height of 17 feet. A 10-foot-tall chain-link fence would be installed around the area as well. For this reason, many of the neighbors were concerned about the facility ruining the view of the Sutter Buttes.
Landowners sign petition against project
Several Sutter County landowners signed a petition in an effort to rally against the project, including the closest landowner to the east of the property, Pamela Greathouse.
Hundreds of acres of solar panels would be installed several yards away from the family's property if the project receives Sutter County's approval. If it passes, installations could potentially obstruct the family's view of the Sutter Buttes, Greathouse said.
"I really want to be open-minded," she said, "but it's really hard."
Greathouse said the property value of her family's home could be also be affected because the facility would take away from the surrounding beauty.
At night, Greathouse can see the blinking beacons that sit on top of the world's smallest mountain range. She also watches the Sutter Buttes' cross, which lights up during the holidays.
Part of the reason she moved to the house is because of its charming country location.
"It's all about your perception," Greathouse said. "In my perception, it's a little piece of heaven."
If the panels are installed, however, she worries what will happen to the rich agriculture land on the other side of her property.
"I never thought it would come to this," Greathouse said.
New West spokeswoman Rhonda Mills said the Greathouse residence is the only property on the east side of the project's plot that could be affected by the facility, but New West is doing what they can to make sure that doesn't happen.
Even in the face of criticism, Mills said the company is continuing to receive approval for the permit for several reasons.
For one, the land is a prime location for a solar panel facility. And the company is already heavily invested in the project, she said.
New West has scheduled a meeting with the surrounding landowners on Saturday to discuss their plans with hopes of finding an agreement.
CONTACT Griffin Rogers at grogers@appealdemocratcom or 749-4783. Find him on Facebook at /ADgriffinrogers or on Twitter at @ADgriffinrogers.