By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases and embracing clean energy took a backseat Tuesday when a proposed solar power array was rejected by the Planning Commission.
Commissioners struggled to find a way to allow the solar project proposed by the private Sonoma Country Day School, but in the end decided it was incompatible with the zoning regulations on the property.
“I don’t want the town, the (planning) commission, to seem like we’re anti-solar,” said Chairwoman Kim Voge, who along with the majority of commissioners turned down the application.
On a 3-1-0 vote with Lois Fisher dissenting and Bruce Okrepkie abstaining, the commission upheld the planning director’s denial of the solar array next to the school on the grounds incompatible with the light-industrial zoning on the property.
Brad Weaver, the principal of the 250 student K-8 school, said he likely would appeal to the Town Council.
School officials say they will try to do a better job of making the case that the solar array is a public benefit and similar to public utility infrastructure, which is allowed in an industrial zone, unlike a private-use solar project.
The school campus, located on the southern tip of Windsor, off Aviation Boulevard, is in an unincorporated area. But the solar array is proposed on an adjacent site the school owns just inside the Town of Windsor.
The project consists of six-foot-high rows of photovoltaic panels mounted on light metal frames fastened to the ground. It would generate 230 kilowatts, enough to provide about half of the school’s electric use.
The school expects to save $100,000 in the first five years and more than $250,000 in a decade, and also to use the array as an instructional tool for the school’s environmental science classes.
It’s planned on a vacant three-acre parcel south of the FedEx facility, but would cover about three-quarters of an acre.
Windsor planning officials said the general plan emphasizes the importance of industrial zones for economic development, creating jobs and tax revenues.
Planners said the school already has encroached into the zone by converting half the property into a parking facility.
Chairwoman Voge said she would like the school to look at alternate solar locations on adjoining property, or consider carport or roof-mounted panels, something school officials dismissed as too costly.
Commissioner Fisher questioned if the site is really needed for industrial use considering it has no street access and is on a flag lot.
When Planning Director Jim Bergman rejected the school’s application he noted that the site is along a rail corridor with opportunity for freight and shipping services and that “industrial lands are important in attracting diverse employers and reversing Windsor’s job housing imbalance.”