The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday approve a revised version of a controversial solar farm project that’s been in the works for years.
Following a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court this summer over the Final Program Environmental Impact Report for the Soitec solar farm project in the county’s back country community of Boulevard, the supervisors voted 4-1 to rescind their February approval of the project. The court found the original FPEIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act because an optional energy storage facility had been added to the report after it had been circulated for public review, according to county staff. The supervisors approved adopting a revised plan, with the energy storage facility removed from the Rugged Solar project.
A handful of Boulevard residents spoke against the project, citing a potential fire hazard and groundwater contamination as two major concerns. Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who cast the dissenting vote, said she supports solar projects, just not this one.
“I strongly support solar but I believe it belongs on rooftops of both single family homes and businesses and a solar farm in the right location,” Jacob said. “This project would potentially industrialize our back country which was never meant to be. The project can no longer live up to the promises and major use findings that are needed for approval.”
The Rugged Solar project would provide alternative energy for up to 26,000 homes, which Soitec officials said could offset some of the loss of renewable energy the county was hit with after the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2012.
Supervisors Dave Roberts, Ron Roberts and Greg Cox all said that while rooftop solar does provide renewable energy to the county, it isn’t enough to meet the demand and state requirements for alternative energy.
“We have to, everyday, balance competing needs in this county,” Supervisor Dave Roberts said. “We’ve got federal requirements, state requirements, renewable energy goals. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in a single family home where they can have rooftop solar. I can sympathize with the community, but I think this is the right thing to do to meet this goal.”
The supervisors also unanimously approved amending county building code to promote rooftop solar installation through an expedited permitting process. County officials said Planning and Development Services implemented many of the requirements of AB 2188 in 2013, a year before it was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
County officials said they almost always have same-day permitting for rooftop solar projects, exceeding the California Solar Permitting Guidebook requirement of three days to get a permit. Jacob said the county’s solar practices have set the standard across the state.
“This is just a great example of the state of California catching up to what San Diego County has been doing for a long time,” Jacob said.
—City News Service
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