Monday, April 21, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Ryer Island proposal mixes solar, farming

12 ryer island 001

Barry Sgarrella, CEO of SolAgra, points to land where he wants to install solar panels on Ryer Island, Thursday. Sgarrella hopes to install a solar farm where the land will provide energy with solar panels while continuing its agricultural use. He proposes raising the solar panels 17-feet high to allow tractors to continue harvesting the soil while evading the flood plain. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | January 11, 2014 | 2 Comments

RYER ISLAND — Barry Sgarrella stood on a Ryer Island levee at the intersection of highways 84 and 220. He looked down at what he hopes will be the site of a solar energy project on a massive scale.

He proposes a $2.5 billion project that would cover about 3.5 square miles with solar panels. He wants this Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta island to be home to a solar farm large enough to generate between 579 and 720 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city.

“That would make it the largest PV (photovoltaic) solar plant in the world,” said Sgarrella, who is the chief executive officer of Marin County-based SolAgra.

Several county supervisors have made it clear they don’t want to see prime farmland lost to large solar projects that feed power to utilities. But Sgarrella says that’s not a choice that the county must make. He says a conventional farm and solar farm can co-exist.

Ryer Island is located in eastern Solano County about 2 miles north of Rio Vista. Although it has two state highways passing over it, both look like narrow, country roads with little traffic. The Real McCoy Ferry carries Highway 84 traffic over Cache Slough every 20 minutes.

This is a farming area behind levees, with crops ranging from alfalfa to corn to pears. Sgarrella says that SolAgra’s proposal won’t change this.

Solar panels would be 17 feet off the ground, Sgarrella said. That leaves enough room for a large John Deere harvester to drive under them, he said.

Panels would be positioned in the morning so that the light falls on the crops, not directly on the panels. That’s the time of day when energy demand is low, he said.

Later in the day, when energy demand is high, the angle of the panels would be good for generating electricity. Sgarrella said most plants don’t need full sunlight all day long. That much sun can lower the moisture content in crops such as alfalfa, he said.

“When we have peak demand in the summer, primarily air conditioning, (it) would be generating full blast,” Sgarrella said.

Former county Supervisor Mike Reagan, a consultant on the project, went further than saying that solar and agriculture can co-exist on Ryer Island.

“Actually, if we do it right, we’ll be enhancing agriculture,” Reagan said.

Meanwhile, the farmers who lease land for such projects have a new source of income, he said. In Solano County’s Delta region, some of the money could be used as matching funds for grants to repair levees that hold back Delta waters.

SolAgra has a lot of people to convince if the project is to become a reality. Interested parties in Solano County include the county Planning Commission, the county Agricultural Advisory Committee, the Solano County Farm Bureau and the Solano County Board of Supervisors. There are also regional agencies such as the Delta Protection Commission.

Solano County recently proposed banning commercial solar facilities from farmland zoned for 40-acre and 80-acre parcels, which consists of 265 square miles with the county’s most fertile soil. Such a law would exclude Ryer Island from having a large solar farm.

The Solano County Planning Commission is to hold a hearing on the proposed law for commercial solar farms at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Government Center, 675 Texas St. in Fairfield. A staff report calls for delaying the issue to a future meeting.

Sgarrella said he’s working with the University of California, Davis to show that a commercial solar energy farm and agriculture can co-exist. He’d like to have a pilot project of a few acres on Ryer Island to convince the county.

Ryer Island is in Supervisor Skip Thomson’s 5th supervisorial district. Thomson has talked to Sgarrella and called the proposed project “intriguing.”

The county recently banned all new, large-scale renewable energy projects for 10 months as it works on revised land-use policies to protect Travis Air Force Base and agriculture. But Thomson is open to a small pilot project such as the one SolAgra proposes on Ryer Island.

“I think that, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ would be my position,” Thomson said. “Maybe it would be the solar fields of the future.”

Sgarrella said projects in Italy, Japan and North Carolina have combined solar panels and agriculture. None of these are done precisely in the way SolAgra is proposing, which would take the concept several steps further.

“Our arrangement is completely different (from) anything else anyone else has ever done,” Sgarrella said.

But SolAgra is proposing more than a solar farm. That’s why it has targeted remote Ryer Island in Solano County for its project, instead of building in a sunny part of the state with no agriculture.

One problem with solar energy is that the output isn’t constant, which can cause problems for the power grid. Sgarrella wants a way to store the power to make the output even and available even when the sun isn’t shining.

“Ryer Island has some things that practically nowhere else in the state has,” Sgarrella said.

One of those attributes is abandoned gas wells underneath a clay soil cap. Sgarrella proposes to use an air compressor to store air underground. When needed, the air would be released to turn a turbine on the property and generate electricity.

Reagan said compressed air energy storage on Ryer Island could also be used to even out the energy produced by wind turbines in the Montezuma Hills of eastern Solano County. Wind, like sun, is intermittent.

“I actually think the storage is desperately needed for that,” Reagan said, as he pointed from Ryer Island to dozens of massive wind turbines some five miles in the distance.

Sgarella described himself as a third-generation developer who lives in Marin County and has a house on Twitchell Island in the Delta. He has built residential and commercial projects in the state.

He is partners in SolAgra with Peter Post of Panelized Structures and Panelized Solar of Modesto.

Sgarrella also described himself as an “imagineer” who likes to find interesting ways to fill needs. In future months, he will see if he can move the Ryer Island project from the realm of the imagination to reality.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • CD BrooksJanuary 11, 2014 - 9:34 am

    Put a million of 'em out there. Put them everywhere you want, birds notwithstanding. Just be certain they don't encroach on a huge employer and financial bonanza like TAFB. Just sayin.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • NickyJanuary 12, 2014 - 7:49 am

    Ryer Island has between 300 and 400 residents that could be affected by this project. There are two marinas on Ryer Island, at Hidden Harbor and at Snug Harbor. Snug Harbor is a peninsula off Ryer Island with 28 privately owned residents and then there is the RV park with waterfront vacation rentals that can bring an extra 200 to 300 people to the island during summer months in particular. Ryer Island is not as "remove" as the developer represents. While the solar panels seem to make good sense if done in such a way as to not impact residents and commercial business on Ryer Island, compressing air underground sounds like research would be needed to verify there are no risks to humans. In addition, impacts to residents and commercial business on Ryer Island would have to be considered; transportation delays, project noises, long term impacts. Solar seems like a good idea. Putting huge windmills right next to bird flyways, not such a good idea. Besides, the Montezuma Hills block the normal Delta winds which makes windmills at least along Steamboat Slough at Snug Harbor a fruitless project. Listening.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Jelly Belly artist finds her work sweet

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Hundreds turn out for Kroc Easter Egg hunt

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1

Rodriguez musicians win big in Reno

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1

 
 
Heroes for Hire event goes haywire

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

Best of the best compete at dog show

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Tour past, present, future in Mountain View

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

9th Annual Peace Summit on calendar

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
4-H Paper Clover Campaign starts

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Center offers baby mammal care class

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Fairfield police arrest 6 in alcohol sting

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3

Event allows for safe medication disposal

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Silent movie night set in Rio Vista

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Local government meetings

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Il Fiorello to host mushroom class

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Club plans home garden tour in Fairfield

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Suisun City to host 3rd annual MS walk

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Church offers document shredding

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Kids Fishing Derby to take place Saturday

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Suisun City police log: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Fairfield police log: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Fairfield police log: April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Suisun City police log: April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
North Bay Pediatrics marks anniversary

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

Networking event at Solano College

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

 
Street-sweeping dealership comes to Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11, 1 Comment | Gallery

Firm facilitates building lease in Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

 
Weather for Monday, April 21, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

.

US / World

Bid, Dick, bid: ‘Dick and Jane’ artworks for sale

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Bee colonies damaged after almond pollination

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Sleeping girl killed after car drives into home

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Nurse in critical condition after stabbing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Recreation areas reopening after Yosemite fire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Country music singer Kevin Sharp dies at age 43

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Delay in ferry evacuation puzzles maritime experts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Transcript of SKorea ship sinking: ‘We can’t move’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Transcript reveals confusion over ferry evacuation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Opinion

Why Hillary? The public awaits her answer

By Ann McFeatters | From Page: A8

 
Knowledge, religion and the hard work of faith

By Cynthia M. Allen | From Page: A8

Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Legislature critic is selective

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

Editorial Cartoon for April 21, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Local voices, important choices

By Rod Keck | From Page: A8

.

Living

Community Calendar: April 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 21, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes for April 21, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
My friend’s wife drinks too much, verbally abuses her husband

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

Horoscopes for April 22, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

 
.

Entertainment

‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
TVGrid April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A10

TVGrid April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
.

Sports

Sharks take 2-0 series lead with 7-2 win vs. Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Posey, Lincecum lead Giants to 4-3 win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Chavez gets 1st win, A’s complete sweep of Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Young Clippers try to mature against Warriors

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
NBA: Refs missed foul call in Warriors-Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Westwood wins Malaysian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

After bombs, Boston Marathon under tight security

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Prep baseball: Pair of 10-run innings powers Vikings to win

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Red Sox remember Boston Marathon victims

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Prizefighter Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dies at 76

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Kuchar rallies from 4 back to win RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Jimenez closes with 67 to win Greater Gwinnett

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Aldridge leads Portland over Houston 122-120 in OT

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Nene dominates, Wizards rally past Bulls, 102-93

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
James, Wade lead Heat past Bobcats 99-88 in Game 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Duncan scores 27 points, Spurs beat Mavs 90-85

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
.

Business

 
.

Obituaries

Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
.

Comics

Beetle Bailey April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Sally Forth April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard Of Id April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Word Sleuth April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Bridge April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Beetle Bailey April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Garfield April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard Of Id April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Word Sleuth April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sudoku April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Bridge April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7