County blocks solar permit |

County blocks solar permit

A crowd at the Douglas County Commission meeting for the appeal of the solar generation plant on Thursday.
Kurt Hildebrand |

Minden, Nev. — A permit to allow a solar generation plant north of Muller Lane was denied by Douglas County commissioners on Thursday.

Opponents who spoke at the meeting outnumbered supporters 2-1 as 27 residents testified.

Commissioners were a little more certain, voting 5-0 to deny the project.

Greenstone Renewables proposed a 260-acre solar panel plant on Park Cattle land north of the Minden-Gardnerville Sanitation District pond.

The Douglas County Planning Commission approved a special use permit for the project in May.

“Not all ranchers are in favor of this, so don’t think this is just the community against the ranchers,” Chairman Doug Johnson said. “I think this was a very good view of how Douglas County government works.”

Genoa resident Mary Walker, who lives in the only home neighboring the project, asked commissioners to preserve the Valley by approving her and husband Steve’s appeal.

“This is a threshold issue at a threshold time,” she said. “I ask that you continue your heritage of stewardship and approve the appeal. The planning commission vote was in direct conflict with the master plan.”

Park Cattle’s Jon Park told commissioners that there’s no one in the room who feels as strongly about Park land as the Parks.

“We love ranching, and we love our property,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is diversify. We’re still going to ranch the property, we’re still going to irrigate it.”

Recent Genoa arrival Jim Hartman urged commissioners to deny the permit.

“The reason hundreds of people are concerned is that they asked the question, ‘What are they thinking about doing to the gem of the Carson Valley by building solar panels, when there are so many other sites that would seem so appropriate,’” he said. “This begins the process of blighting Carson Valley.”

Liberty Utilities’ Travis Johnson, who is the company’s director of utility planning and business development, said the company serves regions of the former Sierra Pacific Power Co., which includes South Lake Tahoe and the Stateline casino corridor, Alpine and Mono County.

He said all the company’s power at Lake Tahoe comes through the Buckeye Road substation in Carson Valley.

“Our system is isolated by the Sierra Nevada,” he said. “Our ability to send power over the ridge is limited to maybe 100 houses worth.”

He said that if the solar project had been up and running, the June 28 power outage that affected thousands of residents wouldn’t have occurred.

“Today there is one line that goes from Buckeye Road all the way to Stateline,” he said.

An application by Liberty Utilities to the California Public Utilities Commission includes the Muller solar project and one located near Luning in Mineral County that was approved by the Bureau of Land Management last week.

County Commissioner Steve Thaler said he was the lone vote in favor of the East Valley solar plant, but that he was not in favor of the Muller Lane plant because of its location.

“This project is in the center of the Valley, you’ll be able to see it,” he said. “The impact will be on you whether it impacts you or not. It doesn’t fit in with character of that area.”

Commissioner Greg Lynn said all the work the county has done toward the master plan and the Valley vision plan has been designed to preserve the “big green spot.”

“When we update the master plan, one element is consistent,” he said. “The recognition that the heart of the character of this Valley is that open space. This is an industrial generating facility in the ag land. Once we open that door, we’re going to wish we hadn’t.”

Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who served on the planning commission before winning her seat, said that the county’s approval of a year-long moratorium on solar generating projects should have sent a message to planning commissioners.

“When the moratorium went in on Thursday and they had the proposal on Tuesday, three got it,” she said. “The four planning commissioners who voted for Greenstone relied on property rights and ignored the master plan.”

Commissioner Barry Penzel said he would love to approve a solar project in Douglas County, but that this was in the wrong location.

“When the whole thing was presented to us, everybody thought it was a great idea,” he said. “But businesses are smarter than government. I should have seen that coming. I really apologize.”

Until September 2014, Douglas County didn’t have an ordinance that allowed solar generation as a primary use. At that time E.on Climate and Renewables sought the addition so they could seek a contract with NV Energy. That request was denied by commissioners earlier this year. In 2013, the Nevada Legislature passed a law requiring Nevada counties to have a permit process for renewable energy projects of 10 megawatts or greater.

The county is seeking public participation in rewriting the ordinance.