By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Miriam Raftery: Rooftop solar on People's Market in Ocean Beach
May 29, 2023 (San Diego) – For years, residents in San Diego’s rural and desert areas have argued that it would make more sense to put solar on roofs and parking lots in urban areas where power is used, instead of building massive wind and solar projects in the backcountry that negatively impact communities and require miles of new power lines. On May 25, County Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a proposal by Supervisor Jim Desmond that will include studying capacity for renewable energy projects on infill lots, roofs and parking lots.
The study will be part of the proposed Regional Decarbonization Framework (RDF), which sets a goal of reducing carbon emissions to net-zero levels by 2045. The Chief Administrator has six months to complete the study and report back to the Board of Supervisors, though the board cannot vote until the vacancy in District four has been filled by a special election.
As ECM reported in early March, the Protect Our Communities Foundation filed a lawsuit in late February against the County over its RDF, contending that the County hired a biased utility industry consultant to direct the County’s RDF and that its conclusions are skewed toward utilities’ interests over consumers’ interests based on flawed data and that it would actually cost less for infill energy projects than for large-scale energy facilities in remote areas, if costs of transmission is factored in.
In an interview with ECM, Bill Powers, an engineer and board member on the Protect Our Communities Foundation, said that if the RDF is approved by Supervisors as written, it could result in fast-tracking industrial-scale wind and solar projects in our backcountry, even waiving environmental impact reviews, when it would be more economical to build rooftop and parking lot solar in urban areas – without harm to local communities and environmental habitats.
The newly proposed study would appear to address key concerns raised in the lawsuit.
Desmond, whose district includes desert and mountain areas in East County, noted that some of his constituents had issues with the existing draft RDF. He stated in a letter to his board colleagues that the county must consider “various approaches to decarbonization and embrace a range of energy supply sources, which increases reliability and community resilience to energy emergencies such as blackouts and brownouts, and would also help ratepayers maintain some degree of control over their energy needs."
Board Chair Nora Vargas said Desmond's plan is important to lower-income communities and "complements the work that we're doing already."
During public comments, several residents from Borrego Springs asked Supervisors to be cautious about approving more industrial-scale solar projects in the desert, projects that one woman said are “turning out deserts into buzzing seas of solar farms.”
David Garmon with the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy concluded that the new study is "a great start in the process of improving a document that will serve as a road map for all of San Diego County for decades to come."