Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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 |

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 [email protected] 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

 
 
Fairfield police seek help to ID injured bicyclist

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A5

 
New receiver for Parkway Gardens wins praise

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5

College looks at Measure Q project changes

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A5

 
Robots, raucous businessmen set to arrive on big screen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

Bridge work to shut down Highway 12 east of Rio Vista

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

 
Caltrans reschedules work on J-Mack Ferry

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

 
Highway 12 Association to meet this month

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

 
State schedules work on Highway 12

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

.

US / World

GOP vote to endorse gay group is momentous but incremental

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Lawmaker billed taxpayers for private plane to football game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Netanyahu assails Iran deal, touts US-Israel ties

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
‘Naty’ Revuelta, who had daughter with Fidel Castro, dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Pakistan police arrest parents refusing kids’ polio vaccine

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
UN warns against complacency as Ebola fight enters new phase

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Iraq launches operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Woman with slain Putin critic says she didn’t see his killer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Storms bring up nearly 3 feet of snow to Lake Tahoe

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
4 people killed, 4 others injured in California car crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

California court rules against sex offender law application

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
State water officials announce modest supplies amid drought

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Federal study: Foster kids struggle to get health screenings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Mom convicted of killing son, 5, by poisoning him with salt

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Well-liked photo teacher found dead in California classroom

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Budget standoff leaves California college hopefuls in limbo

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Georgia woman seeks to delay death for husband’s murder

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Police chief: Man killed on Skid Row reached for gun

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Military judge orders overseer of Gitmo cases replaced

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Snowy Boston starts removing parking-space savers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

Israelis worry about inequality, not Iran

By Daniel Gordis | From Page: A11

 
Editorial cartoon: March 3-4, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Minority outreach that works

By Jennifer Rubin | From Page: A11

 
State GOP gathers, celebrates modest successes

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

.

Living

.

Entertainment

Sara Gilbert welcomes baby boy with wife Linda Perry

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Judge: CeeLo Green in compliance with probation in drug case

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Clive Owen to make Broadway debut in Pinter’s ‘Old Times’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Television’s ‘Judge Judy’ staying in session

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Pop channel bringing Daytime Emmys ceremony back to TV

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Julianne and Derek Hough to hit the road again this summer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Ming-Na Wen: ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ role makes me a cool mom

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
TVGrid March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

.

Sports

NASCAR falls flat in follow-up to Daytona 500

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Mayweather and Pacquiao to meet only once before fight week

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Michael Schumacher’s son to drive in Formula 4

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
UConn still No. 1 in women’s basketball poll

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Kurt Busch to follow guidelines toward NASCAR reinstatement

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Harrington wins the Honda Classic in a playoff

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Catholic school apologizes for racial taunting of hoops foes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Curt Schilling fires back after offensive Twitter posts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Wild week leads to changes across AP Top 25 poll

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
New Browns QB McCown barely knows Manziel

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Jordan, other NBA owners join Forbes’ billionaire list

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
NFL salary cap increases $10 million to top $143 million

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

A’s switch-pitcher hopes to find spot with Oakland

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Sharks trade Desjardins to Blackhawks for Smith

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

.

Business

Buffett declines to clarify plan to eventually replace him

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
US consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, rose in Jan.

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Ikea launches furniture with inbuilt wireless chargers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Google, Facebook update contrasting plans to connect world

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Minimum wage in 1 Oakland jumps

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
PayPal to acquire mobile wallet provider Paydient

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Costco strikes credit card deal with Citi, Visa

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4, 1 Comment

 
Bill Gates repeats at top of Forbes’ list of billionaires

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

HP’s big deal: Tech giant buys Aruba Networks for $2.7B

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Next Google Maps adventure: Soaring through Amazon jungle

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Dot-com deja vu: Nasdaq tops 5,000, approaching record high

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Wizard of Id March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Cryptoquote March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Frank and Ernest March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Word Sleuth March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Dilbert March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Crossword March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

B.C. March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Zits March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth March 3

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4