Concerns about Solar grid | Guest Column

On March 13 Opalco filed a notice of application with San Juan County for a permit for a power plant at the corner of Douglas and Bailer Hill Road. The property is just under 20 acres and their proposal calls for a 20% coverage of the property with solar panels and miscellaneous support structures. There will be a non-permeable pad that is about 18,000 square feet. for batteries, transformers and miscellaneous support structures that will be surrounded by a 10 foot cyclone security fence. The entire property will also be fenced and screen landscaping is planned along the roads. The two pairs of Bald Eagles that call the large firs on this property their home and hunting grounds are not mentioned in Opalcos’ 110-page application. Their roosting Fir trees are to be removed.

This property is on the southeast corner of the San Juan Valley and it is designated for Ag use. The county has determined that this power plant fits the Ag zoning designation because the panels only cover a total of 20% of the surface of the property. This determination is ingenious as the real intent of the original San Juan Valley AG zoning was that a project such as Opalcos’ could be considered if it was located on 20% of a property and leave 80% open space. This power plant will basically blanket the entire parcel. The AG zoning also calls for the county to take into account the aesthetic implications of a proposed project such as this one. Opalco has not really addressed the visual impacts that the project will have on the area or on the views across the entire San Juan Valley. This project will have the “rural charm” of a penitentiary and will most certainly ruin the aesthetics of this well-traveled corner. Most importantly if this power plant is passed, it will very effectively break the AG zoning thus leaving the door open for further development of the San Juan Valley and other AG zoned property.

The public comment period lasts for three weeks and closes on April 3. The project then goes before the Hearing Examiner for evaluation on April 24. All public comments need to be put in writing and submitted to San Juan County planning department by April 3.

Final thoughts:

1) all islanders should be aware of this project and its implications for this beautiful corner, its wildlife and the views that it affords across the San Juan Valley.

2) I would like islanders to visit this site so that they can get out of their cars, and into their hearts to feel how this project will transform this very visible and special corner.

3) I am not against solar power generation, but power plants (like all building projects) must be located at appropriate sites because they can and do have negative impacts on their surroundings. I really think that the Opalco application is extremely “tone deaf” to what Islanders expect from their energy co-op. Imagine what our islands would look like if engineers and lawyers made all design decisions. Our “rustic charm” would be quickly transformed as it was recently when Opalco “trimmed” trees along Roche Harbor Road and Pear Point.

I invite all islanders to meet me at the Douglas/Bailer Hill corner on Saturday, March 23, and the following Saturday, March 30. at 1 p.m. We can all discuss and share our views about the Opalco proposal.

For more information go to:

Royce Meyerott,

San Juan Island