Marin Clean Energy’s solar energy supplier, nuclear subsidiary Electricité de France-RE (see attached) is constructing 30 megawatts of solar farms in central California. MCE committed to “local renewables” in their charter and media announcements. MCE specified 1 megawatt (enough to power about 265 houses per year, not including gas-fired back-up) also be located in Marin (note a).
EDF’s July 31 Quarterly Progress Report for the 1 megawatt farm identifies it will be located adjacent at the Buck Center on Novato’s Mt. Burdell. The EDF report says:
- solar panels will be “a combination of carport rooftops and ground mount panels”
- “only building permits required (researching this).”
That second point is telling because it addresses bypassing Novato’s Planning Department, much as the Buck Center did in mid-2011 when it drilled 325 geothermal wells into Burdell, each 400’ deep -- this was done without environmental review. In Novato, rooftop panels are not subject to Planning review, whereas ground mount panels are. Novato Planning could trigger an expensive and lengthy California Environmental Quality Act review for MCE and EDF.
Solar panel location – take 2!
EDF’s subsequent Quarterly Progress Report, dated December 19, shows all solar panels to be located on carport rooftops. This revision helps MEA and EDF sidestep possibly triggering CEQA, which is consistent with MCE’s anti-CEQA and anti-Environmental Impact Report history of avoiding CEQA and Environmental Impact Reporting (note b). But is there enough carport area for 1 megawatt?
Carport rooftop area
1 Megawatt solar farm requires 5 – 8 acres (note c). Late October, Novato City Manager Michael Frank disclosed MCE’s proposed solar farm would be positioned as a canopy over a recently graded parking field that’s adjacent to the Buck complex. The field is about 3 acres. 2 to 5 acres of additional roof area at the Buck site have to be located.
Governor Brown wants to streamline CEQA for faster development approval, limiting public input. Some green energy projects have already been fast-tracked under AB900, and CEQA revisions may further streamline approvals of solar energy projects.
MCE’s contract with EDF
MCE will export about $200 million of Marin’s money to Paris, France during its 25-year contract with EDF. MCE selected nuclear-centric EDF over the Bay Area’s own SunPower Corp (note d).
The contract specifies “Marin carport(s)” and addresses the possibility of multiple carports to achieve an aggregate 1 megawatt of energy. If EDF fails to deliver, it owes MEA $250,000, or the ratio of its energy shortfall. If there is insufficient carport rooftop area how would MCE respond if only “a few” panels are located as ground mount? (note e).
Mt. Burdell slide problems and impact on scenery
If modifying land to accommodate MCE’s panels and ground mount support structures is pursued it may cause similar slide problems as the 1996 berm (see attached). It’s an issue of grading and changing drainage on terrain that has a history of sliding. MCE approved a resolution in 2009 committing to “promote and protect the environment.” Among other things, that commitment included addressing project:
- topography, grading, geology, hydrology
- impact on neighboring population & housing
- visual/scenic impact
Placing 1 megawatt of solar panels on existing carport structures at the Buck Center appears unachievable, but EDF may make it fit. However, if the configuration is revised to again include “ground mount” it sets a dangerous precedent for Mt. Burdell, particularly if CEQA is modified.
If MCE’s solar farm doesn’t fit on carport rooftops, or if construction applications are timed to capitalize on CEQA revisions that enable sidestepping environmental impact review, will MCE honor its commitment to complete an EIR? If not, MCE will have to explain why Novato should absorb environmental costs for MCE’s “carport” deviation.
We’ll see what develops when Marin Clean Energy and Electricité de France submit development plans to Novato. CEQA modifications should become clearer in June.
Page 63 of 83. One megawatt solar farm produces approximately 1,750 megawatt hours of electric power per year, less than 1/5 of 1% of MCE’s total energy commitment for Marin. If the San Rafael Airport solar farm’s output is added to the Buck solar farm output, the total is about 3/10 of 1% of MCE’s total energy commitment for Marin. Furthermore, solar requires base load generation (gas-fired) as a back-up to cover production intermittency attributable to weather, clouds, and night.
According to MCE’s acreage estimates, if MCE were to construct Marin-based solar renewables that gave it a true 50% renewable content (no Renewable Energy Certificates), MCE would carpet with solar panels an area that covers three-quarters of Mill Valley. Cost ~ $860 million, plus land.
(b) http://meatruth.org/PDF/JPCEQAletterAboutUs2.pdf Jim Phelps letter to Dawn Weisz, dated January 31, 2010. Subject: Marin Energy Authority’s (MEA) Request for Categorical Exemption from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
(c) Sonoma County Community Choice Aggregation Feasibility Study, dated September 29, 2011. Part II, page 4, footnote 3: “Each MW of PV capacity requires approximately 5 to 8 acres, depending upon the location.” Author: Marin Energy Authority staff consultant John Dalessi (dba Dalessi Management Consulting LLC).
(d) MCE selected nuclear-centric EDF subsidiary enXco, over American-based LS Power and the Bay Area’s SunPower Corp.
MCE rejects nuclear energy through its Resolution 2011-09, which calls for the decommissioning of California’s Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear power plants.
Three months after passing Resolution 2011-09, MCE selected EDF to supply solar energy from as-yet-constructed solar farms in central California (it did this while also claiming the GHG-free attributes from California’s nuclear power plants). MCE rationalized its Electricité de France decision stating “We’re not buying nuclear power from (EDF). We’re providing another market opportunity for them to build more solar in California.” Marin Independent Journal, “Marin Energy Authority to buy solar power from subsidiary of French utility,” published 8/23/2011.
SunPower has constructed enough solar energy in California for 100,000 homes.
(e) July 8, 2011 Solar Power Purchase and Sale Agreement contract between Cottonwood Solar, LLC (enXco) and Marin Energy Authority. On August 20, 2012 enXco changed its name to Electricité de France-RE, reflecting its parent company Electricité de France.
Marin Energy Authority -- Cottonwood Solar, LLC contract Exhibit A – “Description of Potential Solar Facilities – Site Name: Marin Carport(s)* ”
*Seller (EDF / enXco) shall use commercially reasonable efforts to locate sites in Marin County for the construction of solar facilities totaling 1 MW... In the event that Seller, after commercially reasonable efforts, is unable to achieve Commercial Operation for the solar carport facilities in Marin County totaling 1 MW by March 31, 2014, Seller shall pay “Carport Damages” to Buyer...”
“Carport facilities” was confirmed April 12, 2012 during Marin Clean Energy’s televised Community Meeting in Novato. https://marincleanenergy.info/ MEA presenter Dawn Weisz [elapsed time: 24:49]:
“We have a couple of sites, some of them are actually in Novato, so we’re hopeful there will be a new solar carport solar shade structure coming into our town -- one of our towns soon -- and that will be helping to provide power to our customers.” Also see note (a) for power production.