After nearly four hours of testimony, passionate pleas from Stillwater farmers and ranchers and assurances from Enel Green Power North America, the Churchill County commissioners approved a special use permit (SUP) Thursday at a public appeal hearing Thursday night in the commission chambers.
Once commissioners heard the testimony, they took a break in which Chief Civil Deputy District Attorney Benjamin D. Shawcroft listed 19 provisions that Enel must follow in the SUP or risk losing its license.
In Enel’s Stillwater Solar II SUP application, the commissioners weighed five criteria to determine if PVII (photovoltaic) solar panel material met the permit’s provisions: Is it compatible with the existing surrounding land uses and development; is it in substantial conformance with the Master Plan and policies and will be constructed and operated for compliance of this code; will the project be constructed and operated in a manner that will not overburden public services and infrastructure; will it adequately mitigate road and traffic impacts by the construction and build up of the project; and does it not create adverse environmental impacts, including but not limited to no water, glare, fumes and other odor that may be detrimental to the public health, pubic safety or general welfare of the persons or property within the vicinity of the wildlife and/or other natural resources.
Both Commissioners Bus Scharmann and Carl Erquiaga said they had problems with criterion No. 1.
“I have difficulty with No. 1,” Scharmann said.
Erquiaga wondered aloud since Enel is already established, can the commissioners make the plant smaller?
Commission Chairman Pete Olsen, though, was more direct with his comments and concerns.
Olsen said he was struggling with the SUP because he said he knew a lot of people attending the hearing.
“It’s not fresh ground we’re plowing here,” he said.
Olsen said he told Enel representatives he wants them to use their property with minimal impacts to its neighbors. The two-term commissioner commended Christine and Cliff Newmyer for doing a great job in fighting the plant’s expansion and the glare reflecting off its solar panels. Olsen, though, said Enel could have been a better neighbor in understanding the complaints and concerns.
“Corporate-wise your word is no good. I told you in public and private,” Olsen said, directly looking at the Enel representative. “I’m seeing things being offered to mitigate. I live with these folks, and I have to do my best to protect them.”
Olsen also asked if farmers’ rights are being impacted. He said a berm could be an answer to deflect the glare from neighboring houses and told Enel the commission needs assurances that fencing, which would institute a good mitigation effort, will be implemented in a proper way.
County Manager Eleanor Lockwood said Enel must be responsive, and when action is needed, it must be immediate.
Michael Tierney, Enel’s in-house legal counsel, said the company is trying to correct its bad habits.
Scharmann shot back.
“Enel needs to take on responsibility. There’s a serious issue with trust,” Scharmann said. “To establish trust, you need to be a good community partner.”
Erquiaga made a motion to reverse the finidngs of the Planning Commission that had denied a SUP in May.
“Therefore, I move to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial of the Special Use Permit application. The permit is hereby approved with the conditions below.” Equiaga read from his computer.
(See our fact box on the LVN website and Facebook page for a list of the 19 provisions in granting the SUP.)
Scharmann seconded the motion, and the commissioners voted 3-0 for approval.
The majority of testimony against the SUP for the evening, though, came form Clifford and Christine Newmyer, who live on Portuguese Lane west of Enel. Christine Newmyer said she had concerns the new technology could cause more glare as reflected from PVI. She said another neighbor, Candy Peck, would have more glare to her home’s second story.
In her comments both Thursday and at the planning board, she said the glare would affect everyone’s property in the area if it were not mitigated.
“This project is not compatible with our farming district,” she said.
The Newmyers said property value would decrease within one-half mile of the Enel facility but less within one mile. Cliff Newmyer said he feels when a big company comes in, they dictate.
Christine Newmyer said Enel can move their expansion north of the plant to land that Ted de Braga has and offered to sell.
“There are no homes, no farms. It shouldn’t be that difficulty,” she said.
She also re-read parts of her prepared remarks from when she appeared before the planning commission: “Churchill County values its agricultural heritage which in conjunction with the vast open spaces provides a quality of life that is hard to beat. The county’s agriculture, open spaces, Carson River corridor and other valuable resources must be protected. Further urbanizing development should be guided away from the county’s important wetland and wildlife refuges.
Agricultural uses and open spaces should be promoted in this area to protect the county’s water resources and preserve the county’s important farmlands, wildlife and open spaces.”
Christine Newmyer reminded commissioners that Enel is adjacent to the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.
In other testimony, Sheriff Ben Trotter said his office has received complaints about public safety and nuisance. He said some complaints point out the glare to motorists on Freeman and Lawrence Lanes.
Dana Weishaupt, whose father owns property south of the Enel plant, said he doesn’t see why the project is being expanded next to ranching areas.
“It’s too close,” he impassionately said. “I think this will be a problem and get worse as days go by. It seems to me it will be a problem.
Pilot and crop duster Jerry Frey said he had been informed by the Federal Aviation Administration that Enel had a concern of him flying over the plant.
Attorney Rod Forysthe expressed some concerns on behalf of Enel. He said the glare could be mitigated, and Enel could construct a fence at the new PVII site. He said a berm could also help the problem.
Scharmann asked if there’s a solution for a two-story building.
“We haven’t come up with anything to deflect the glare with two-story buildings,” he responded.
Forsythe said Enel wants to work with individuals to resolve differences.
Terry Page, Enel’s regulatory affairs director, answered critics about not building north of the existing plant. He said a transmission line would have to be constructed 17 males at a cost of $1 miller per mile.
“Going north is out of the question,” Page said.
Olsen also told Page and other Enel representatives he was concerned about the impact on people’s farming practices next to the plant.
Page assured Olsen and the other two commissioners Enel is prepared to with the county commission and the residents who live near the Enel plant.