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Sonoma County looks to boost renewable energy at homes, businesses


Sonoma County planners are considering whether to relax zoning rules, increase housing densities and reduce parking requirements as ways to encourage more renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind projects.

The options were outlined during a public hearing by the Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday, the first of two to be held.

“Everybody agrees that the more energy generation you create the better,” said Jason Liles, planning commission chairman. “We are trying to make it easier for residences and businesses to create power.”

One option would open up non-prime agriculture land to commercial development of facilities such as solar parks, but the intent is to protect prime agriculture land, scenic corridors and sensitive natural resources.

“We don’t have the same commercial viability as deserts; I don’t see us having the huge solar installations they have in the valley,” deputy planning director Jennifer Barrett said.

Barrett, however, is proposing creation of special renewable energy zoning areas for commercial projects on agricultural and other lands that are near existing power infrastructure such as transmission lines or electrical substations.

Bill Smith of Healdsburg urged that agriculture be protected.

“We do need to be very careful about agriculture lands; it could have a devastating effect,” he said.

Barrett also is recommending that developers of large-scale commercial energy projects pay sales taxes in Sonoma County for the machinery that is purchased, regardless of where it is bought.

On a recently approved project for a new plant in The Geysers, the tax has been estimated to be $1.2 million, she said.

The new proposals would allow unlimited solar power on any rooftop, whether it is a home, business, covered parking structure, barn or warehouse, as long as it is an allowed building that can hold the weight.

Liles said that creates a huge potential for generating electricity that can be used within the county, sold to PG&E or sold to a new Sonoma County power agency that is being considered by the Board of Supervisors.

Another proposal allows solar panels, wind turbines, biomass plants and other energy facilities that are mounted on the ground to be installed if they provide 125 percent of energy demand for that on-site use.

Also, the county is proposing to allow businesses to reduce the amount of parking required if they provide electric vehicle charging stations, showers and bicycle lockers.

Residential developers also would be allowed to increase housing densities for projects that include on-site renewable energy systems that provide power to meet a third of the demand.

The second public hearing will be at 1:05 p.m. Thursday at the county Permit and Resource Management Department. The proposals are expected to go to the Board of Supervisors early next year.

3 Responses to “Sonoma County looks to boost renewable energy at homes, businesses”

  1. Brown act Jack says:

    30 uears ago, yes , 30 years ago, I had the power to approve loans for solar hotwater systems, and , yes , indeed, people wanted them!
    But, when I asked the vendors for their informtion as to how the water heaters worked and how much heat they produced , theyu showed me all of the paperwork and showed the output of the solar cells, and it looked fine,
    Then I asked where the testing was done to receive those results, and they said it was all tested in YUMA Arizona!

    About as far south as you can get in the USA and about as cloud free as it can get!

    Never belief a salesman trying to sell you something, look for the source of the information he is providing you.

    Yes I turned down solar heating systems for loans, especially when the home were located in valley bottoms among redwood trees.

    But the buyer all thought that it was great because the government gave them a tax credit for the installation!

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  2. R. B. Fish says:

    Solar farms on agricultual, public and scenic land. I thought these people were concerned environmentalist and naturalist! Absolutely absurb and ineffective. Strictly individual zoing issues is the way to go. The reality is that solar and wind appear to great things and they are but the efficiency of the techonolgy to include costs is just not here yet. Let the technology develop and keep the government out of it! HOpefully the nera future will see smaller inexpensive and efficient units.

    It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new hot water heater including on demenad units and pay the bill than deal with solar panels on your roof with newer techology soon to outdate it. What about roof replacement in 20-25 years? I remember installing solar panels on a house in 1972 on the east coast. The owner was wealthy and probably stills works. It’s like the computer industry in late 70 and early 80′s when 20MB was a big hard drive yet it did marvelous things in our eyes. I appreciate planners thinking of the future but the effective point in not yet here.

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  3. GAJ says:

    The County would be far better off subsidizing this than chasing their Power Agency pip dream.

    I will definitely get solar, (enough to keep me out of PG&E’s Tier Three), when I replace my roof.

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