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Sonoma County power agency plan scrambles political allegiances

  • Dave Hood, CEO of Coldwell Solar, stands close to the site of the company's proposed 22.6-acre solar farm site near the intersection of Frates Road and Adobe Road on Thursday, May 9, 2013 in Petaluma. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

Plans for a public power agency and the renewable energy projects that could sprout with it appear to have scrambled politics in Sonoma County.

Shifting alliances, particularly among agricultural and environmental advocates, have emerged over a key land-use question tangential to the power proposal: where to allow energy projects on the county's croplands, ranches and forested properties?

The issue has divided agricultural interests, including a group of grape growers and the county's largest farming organization, and revealed potential wrinkles in how the power plan has been rolled out to the wine industry.

It has also presented environmental groups with a complicated choice between two priorities that can be at odds — green energy development and landscape protection.

The local split mirrors larger rifts elsewhere in the state and country within groups of farmers and environmentalists over renewable energy projects.

Both sides voice confidence they can find a good balance for Sonoma County. But an initial public clash this week provided a glimpse of the fault lines and high stakes involved.

Eric Koenigshofer, the former Sonoma County supervisor who weighed in this week in favor of strong county regulation of energy projects on rural lands, called it the “nearly inevitable moment when two environmental purposes can butt heads.”

“The implications for the outlying areas of our county, our working landscapes, are very significant and potentially very negative,” Koenigshofer said.

On the other side, favoring a lighter regulatory touch, was Supervisor Efren Carrillo, a close ally of Koenigshofer's and ardent supporter of the county power plan.

He called a set of county rules that would ban commercial energy projects on some cropland, including vineyard property, a “knee-jerk” reaction.

“You can't have your cake and eat it too,” he said, lobbying for greater leeway to expand renewable energy generation.

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