Butte College solar fiasco

As much as we respect private-property rights and sympathize when a homeowner feels threatened by his or her home’s potential devaluation, we couldn’t get behind Maria Rock’s crusade against Butte College’s ambitious plans to install solar panels that will provide energy for up to eight campus buildings.

We agree with Judge Thomas Kelly’s ruling this week that allows the project to move forward.

Sun Power, the Oroville-based company hired to install the solar array in a field north of the campus, was pulled off the job in November, leaving behind stacks of materials and graded property where the panels were set to go, until Rock filed a court injunction to stop the project. Rock said the school didn’t follow proper procedures and in doing so disregarded potential environmental impacts to the land, which sits adjacent to her horse ranch.

She contended the land is environmentally sensitive and may have Native American artifacts present. The school argued that the state Department Fish & Game as well as the Army Corps of Engineers determined the project posed no significant environmental impacts. Because of the school’s remote location, it is used to operating somewhat off the radar—a situation worsened by the fact that the school, as a state entity, was able to conduct its own environmental-impact report and did not directly notify the neighbors about the project. The school may have been acting within its rights, as the judge ruled, but had it worked with the neighbors ahead of time, the legal mess could have been avoided.

The irony here is rich—an environment-friendly energy project was held up over objections to its perceived environmental impact. We suspect that Rock’s primary objection, one that she has listed with her other concerns, was the impact the system would have on her property’s "viewshed." She said she found the array of solar panels offensive. We believe the college’s efforts to generate clean, renewable energy for its campus trumps her concerns over the project’s esthetics.