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<NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO> 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 <NO1><NO>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.
The shakeup surfaced Tuesday at a Board of Supervisors hearing on proposed zoning changes intended to open more land in the county to renewable energy projects.
Currently, those changes would affect just one project, a 23-acre solar panel installation proposed for a hay field on the southeastern outskirts of Petaluma. The project, prohibited under current zoning, would be allowed under the rule changes.
It was not discussed in Tuesday's hearing but could be a key test of how energy projects are judged on rural lands.
The supervisors' meeting focused more on the county's highest-value cropland, including vineyard properties, where commercial energy projects are not allowed and would remain banned under the rule changes.
A representative for grape growers balked at the blanket prohibition for cropland, including 16,000 acres of non-prime, largely hillside or riverside property.
"Ag is ag," said Bob Anderson, executive director of the United Winegrowers for Sonoma County. He called the regulation "a misuse of the power of government."
The ban would not affect projects on rooftops or over parking areas, which would be unlimited under the new rules.
Projects on a wide swath of pasture land would be permitted where they aren't now, and larger projects on rural ranches and forested properties would be allowed with higher limits.
But without any changes to the cropland ban, Anderson said, he would urge his members — 250 growers and wineries — to pull their support for the county power plan. "I'll call my guys and tell them to opt out," he said.