FAIRFIELD — Solano County began the process Tuesday that could lead to a closer look at how large-scale solar and wind energy projects might affect Travis Air Force Base.
Concerns expressed by base officials include glare from solar panels and the potential problems that spinning turbine blades can cause with radar. At stake is how many more large “green energy” projects might be allowed in the county and where, as well as the future viability of the base.
Questions could be answered by updating the 2002 Travis Air Force Base Comprehensive Airport Land Use Plan.
The Solano County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took the first steps to launching such an effort. It voted unanimously to have county staff develop a work plan. It also approved seeking a $300,000 federal grant to help pay part of the estimated $500,000 expense of an update.
Solano County has long been a location for green energy projects. More than 800 electricity-generating turbines have been built in the wind-swept Montezuma Hills over the past two decades.
Travis Air Force Base in 2007 announced that the turbine blades can cause radar problems. The base then worked with wind energy companies on ways to overcome this situation, allowing three new wind projects to go forward in the Montezuma Hills.
But Travis has a minimum standard for radar operation. A county report said this threshold may be being approached.
“Who knows how many more turbines can be accommodated before we reach that limit?” county Principal Planner James Leland said Monday.
The proposed Travis update would answer that question, even as more turbine projects appear to be on the horizon.
A petition has gone to the Federal Aviation Administration to construct wind turbines in the hills west of Interstate 680, Leland said. The proponents have yet to file an application with the county.
Such a project would be a first for these hills between Fairfield, Benicia and Vallejo.
Also, wind energy companies have expressed interest in building wind turbines on the north side of Highway 12 in eastern Solano County. Those 800-plus turbines in the Montezuma Hills area are all on the south side of Highway 12.
But Travis has a new assault landing zone where C-17s do combat arrival and departure simulations. Base officials have talked about having no structures higher than 200 feet from the base south to Highway 12 and from near Walters Road east to the county line.
Such a restriction in rural areas could affect plans for wind turbines north of Highway 12, given that the largest turbines are 400 feet from the ground to the tip of an upturned blade.
Commercial solar facilities that generate electricity for the power grid are another issue. Travis Air Force Base representative Nate Pyron told the Solano County Planning Commission on June 20 that the panels could cause glare and interfere with radar.
Gestamp Solar wants to build a solar farm on 154 acres between Fairfield and Vacaville. Solagra Corp. has also talked about possibly building a 400-megawatt photovoltaic power facility on Ryer Island in the far eastern county, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It has yet to file an application with the county.
Leland said updating the Travis airport land use plan could take two years and that the Airport Land Use Commission would oversee the work. If the commission approved the update, local cities and the county would then change their general plans to reflect the new policies.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.
This version updates the original to include action taken Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.