The sun on Sutter’s Landing

Sacramento aspires to be the “most livable” town in America. It boasts the greenest public utility around, a City Hall genuinely interested in sustainability and a strong cohort of smart environmental groups.

So you’d expect everyone to be on the same page when it comes to building one of the state’s largest solar farms here in Sacramento, right?


Sacramento city planners are pushing a plan to build 20 megawatts of solar power on the old city landfill, now called Sutter’s Landing.

The landfill, closed in 1997, is covered with a asphalt cap and a carpet of soil and grass. Because of the simmering stewing garbage juices and methane gas beneath the surface, much the land isn’t fit for human use until 2027. But once the monitoring period is over, the whole area is supposed to become a bitchin’ regional park.

Until then, the city wants to lease the land to Conergy Projects—which will cover the area with solar panels—and do the planet a solid at the same time.

The 172-acre solar park would be one of the biggest photovoltaic projects in the state, producing enough juice to power 5,000 homes a year.

According to Conergy project manager David Vincent, it’s a great way to put all that wasted space to work. “Right now it sits there and it isn’t doing anything for the city.”

Then again, some Sacramento residents—winged residents in particular—like Sutter’s Landing just the way it is. “It’s really a kitchen for area wildlife,” said Jude Lamare, with local environmental group Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk. The landfill’s open space is teeming with meadow voles, rabbits and other tasty critters that support area raptors, like the threatened Swainson’s hawk.

Lamare’s group holds regular educational events in the spot, and she wrote to the city that the grassy mound at Sutter’s Landing is “a very rare and special location” because it’s in an urban neighborhood and because there is a pair of hawks nesting just north of the hill.

Conergy would build solar arrays along the Interstate 80 side of the landfill, creating a sort of green gateway into town. More panels would be mounted atop the indoor skate park that’s there now.

All that sounds great to Lamare. Likewise, she supports building solar over parking lots and other dead space. “There’s so much concrete to cover up in this town, there are so many rooftops,” she added.

But most of Conergy panels would be plopped in the middle of the landfill’s wide-open green space—prime hunting grounds. That’s likely to draw stiff opposition if the project moves forward.

Vincent counters that Conergy’s proposed design includes 10 to 12 feet in between solar panels, plenty of room for swooping raptors.

“We want to design it so that any bird of prey is going to have hunting grounds in the area. It will be a design that actually promotes wildlife on the mound,” Vincent said.

The whole plan is subject to an environmental impact report—which should shed some light on the real cost to area wildlife.

Other unknowns: Right now, nobody can say what the lease and sale of the power will be worth to the city.

Also, SMUD is already meeting its green-energy goals and, weird as it may seem, might not be interested in buying power from the Sutter’s Landing solar farm.

All of which makes what seems like a simple idea—“Let’s have more solar power in our city”—a lot more complicated.