The Churchill County Board of Commissioners met last week to discuss Enel Green Power North America’s actions taken to address solar panel glare for residents near the Stillwater power plant.
The topic related specifically to a nuisance complaint filed by Candy Peck at 4500 Freeman Lane.
Terry Page, Enel’s regulatory affairs director, kicked off the discussion with an apology.
“We’ve been slow, even at the highest levels of the company,” he said. “That’s been recognized, and I’m here to commit that we have commitment all the way to the top of Enel Green Power not to get tardy — in the way we have in the past — that gets in the way of the regular course of business for the county.
“We also need to apologize on the record to the Newmyers and the Pecks. We’ve delayed in mitigating their problem. It is a problem. I’ve seen it. It’s significant. We believe we’ve fixed the Newmyer problem and within the next few weeks we’ll have the problem fixed for Candy Peck.”
Page added the solar panel glare occurs for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half five months out of the year.
Pictures were supplied regarding the nuisance-addressing screened fence atop a berm. Bryan Stankiewicz, plant operations manager, gave a brief history related to the complaint; the original solar plant began operating in 2012, and Peck filed a complaint in December 2016. He said there was a meeting that month and an extension requested to be able to fully comprehend the occurring glare.
In March, he met with Peck on the property along with the county and in the next two months, he started working on a plan and meeting with engineers. Stankiewicz said they discovered hay bales wouldn’t work due to the ground levels.
“This would be some commitment that we’d have to devote a lot of resource into to actually take care of,” he said they realized, and added they hired a local contractor (Pioneer General Engineering) and obtained a building permit to construct a glare screen.
Construction started May 22, and Stankiewicz said they consulted with the planning commission, associate planner Dean Patterson and the Pecks on the screen color. The structure is 11-feet tall (an 8-foot chain link fence atop a 3-foot tall berm) and 1,750 feet long. Pioneer gave an end date of June 15 to have the project completed.
“We haven’t been able to mitigate the second-story window yet,” Page said. “But we offer on the record and (are) willing to meet with Ms. Peck at any time,” adding there are some options including window shades, solar film or an automatic blackout curtain.
Page also said concern has arisen about Peck’s grandchildren using an existing playhouse on the property, and he suggested Enel could put that in an unaffected position.
During public comment, Candy Peck as well as Cliff and Christine Newmyer (4110 Portuguese Lane) spoke to the issue.
“The county has approved a nuisance for being built on my neighborhood,” Peck said. “After it’s built, there’s a nuisance, and then I complain — it’s going to be a burden on me to fix it? No. I don’t think it’s fair, to put that burden on me,” she said of having to address the nuisance on her property.
“I’ve been kind of a good neighbor for 20 years, with no help from them. So abating my second story? They can’t fix it. They need to move that solar plant out of the residential and agricultural area, because this fence is going to be a nightmare to look at — in my nice, big window, a nightmare. It’s ugly. I’m sorry; it’s ugly. That’s all I have to say. Thanks.”
The Newmyers emphasized not to abandon the nuisance complaint and noted other second stories. They also mentioned Jackrabbit Road, a United Kingdom precedent, and distinguishing between “abate” and “mitigate” as well as figuring out what related solutions are going to be temporary and permanent.
“The abatement should be done on the property where it (the nuisance) exists, not on the other people’s property,” Cliff Newmyer said. “Period. And if not, then the solar cells should be either covered or abandoned and removed.”
Cliff Newmyer also said the screened fence project won’t assist with the glare when operating farm equipment (given its height, he said) in the area, while Page had said some farmers and engineers say otherwise.
“If the farmers have a complaint, they should be here,” said commissioner Bus Scharmann, who also serves on the planning commission and said window screens and sunglasses should be used.
Scharmann added in the past the county has supported residents in their complaints and have had Enel tackle those, noting hay bales were used to address glare on the Newmyer property.
“What I see here are improvements,” he said. “When I look at this whole thing, I think to myself, what are the reasonable expectations that we want from Enel? … I believe they are doing what is reasonably expected … They’re not gonna move. And I don’t want them to.”
Commissioner Pete Olsen said he agreed with “just about everything” Scharmann said.
“The one thing I would like to point out is that a lot of the frustration that’s here, with the residents, is a direct result of lack of action on Enel,” Olsen said, adding he’s frustrated corporate responsibility is just now being shown. “On the whole you’ve been good for our community, good for our county, but this has given you guys a black eye. I want this new good behavior to continue for these folks.”
Commissioner Carl Erquiaga said his thoughts echoed for the most part what the other commissioners said.
“I understand how it is when something is wrong in your life, it becomes what you focus on,” he said, also mentioning his own home’s view has changed over the years. “That glare in your kitchen window every morning … letting it (the issue) go for five years has allowed it to fester; it’s consumed these people.”
Scharmann said it’s the residents’ job to bring up their complaints and Enel’s job to fix it.
The board will receive a project update at the July 6 regular meeting, and Erquiaga encouraged Enel’s effort on addressing Peck’s second story.
Page said he would assure the entire issue was taken to the highest level of the company.
“I appreciate your frankness with us,” Page said. “We will continue to commit to being a better neighbor with our neighbors around the power plant. We want to work cooperatively with neighbors on issues such as this.”
In other business, the board approved a grant for operations as well as a new bus for the Churchill Area Regional Transportation (CART) program, which runs on green energy.
“It’s been 19 years since folks out there had no socialization outside their house,” said Ernie Maguire, CART manager. “People aren’t prisoners in their home any longer.”
County Comptroller Alan Kalt, who has been on a CART ride-along, said he was amazed the program was operating five days a week and that the drivers knew everybody by first name.
The board also approved a $10,000 grant application to the 2017 “Pet Safe Bark for Your Park” program.
“Just something to kind of dress up the park, make it a little bit nicer,” said Danny Gleich, county parks and recreation supervisor, adding concrete pads would be added at the entry and under benches in the natural shade, sidewalks to make the park ADA accessible and some equipment for the dogs to play on.
Gleich said National Recreation and Park Association reports 41 percent of communities have dog parks, so Churchill County’s improved park will “continue to make us stand out.”
The board renewed a license agreement with the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education to provide facilities and recreation opportunities for youth including flooding and irrigation aspects, habitat and fishery education as well as forestry aesthetics. The previous agreement had lasted 20 years, and new objectives will be reviewed in the coming weeks.
A new ALI database purchase was approved for use with the Churchill County E-911 system — a combined system the district attorney and sheriff’s offices said would assist in locating emergency callers.
County Manager Eleanor Lockwood provided a flood mitigation update that while reduced river flows will likely be seen consistently, snowmelt can be unpredictable and residents near the river should remain vigilant. She added the mosquito abatement order has been submitted and is largely reimbursable presently.
The board also approved the following:
Reappointment of Bob Getto to the county TDR Sending Site Review Committee.
Reappointment of Gary Imelli, Bob Francke and Ava Case to the county Parks and Recreation Commission.
Appointment of Bill Williams to the Churchill County Library.
The next regular meeting will be June 14 at 1:15 p.m. in the chambers at 155 N. Taylor St.