Solar panel protesters pack council chamber

City unable to help, says mayor
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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Nearly three dozen Lincoln Hills residents attended the Lincoln City Council meeting Tuesday night to protest the installation of solar panels on a golf course and ask for help stopping the project.

Although most of the council voiced concern over the proposed installation of solar panels on the perimeter of The Hills Golf Course at Sun City Lincoln Hills, there was no help forthcoming.

The solar project, which includes installation of 8-foot high panels, will likely block the view of residents of Fairway Valley Lane. Both golf courses at Sun City Lincoln Hills are owned by Billy Casper Golf, the nation’s largest owner and operator of golf courses.

Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short said state laws hamper the city’s ability to restrict solar projects.

“We feel very strongly about this and would love to have this project come before us,” Short said. “We take this seriously and it has far-reaching impacts for the community. Our legal counsel has indicated we have a severely limited ability to act on this.”

Lincoln city attorney Jon Hobbs said cities have limited authority when it comes to approving solar projects, adding that solar projects are covered by non-discretionary permits that are exempt from environmental review.

“In order for the city to take it under consideration, there would have to be substantial evidence (of health and safety impacts) and even if the evidence exists, the city still could not deny a permit but there would be an opportunity to appeal to the Planning Commission and City Council,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs added that state law regarding solar panels is not limited to rooftops but includes “any solar collector or system without regard to size.”

“The city simply does not have the discretion to ignore state law,” Hobbs said.

Lincoln Councilman Peter Gilbert, a resident of Lincoln Hills and former member of the community’s board of directors, said he is disturbed by the plans.

“If you have anything in your wildest dreams that you think the city can use as ammunition to protect your view, I will pass it to the city manager,” Gilbert said, adding that the solar power industry in California has bought the approval of the laws from the state legislature. “The industry felt it was worth a major investment to buy the votes.”

Lincoln Councilman Paul Joiner said the city would do what it could to facilitate negotiations between the community association and Billy Casper Golf.

“We are all deeply concerned and we share your vision of a possible solution with the parking lot,” Joiner said. “We will do what we can within our authority.”

The protesters have asked that Billy Casper Golf follow the lead of the Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association and place the solar panels on top of parking lot stalls.

Lincoln Councilman Stan Nader said City Manager Matt Brower has been in contact with Chris O’Keefe, executive director of the Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association.

Marianne Morse, the protest’s leader, said she submitted a petition to the community association with more than 1,000 signatures.

“This project will put nearly 1,800 solar panels 20 feet off my backyard and 8-feet high,” Morse said. “There is more than adequate space to accommodate the panels in the parking lot, with the added benefit of providing shaded parking.”

Morse said she expects permits for the project to be issued within a matter of days.

“I implore you to take the responsibility to study this issue,” Morse said.