By Miriam Raftery
January 28, 2016 (Jacumba Hot Springs) – Jacumba Solar LLC has cancelled its contract with the Jacumba Community Services District to purchase water for a large-scale solar project.. The project would include over 81,000 solar panels on 304 acres near the SDG&E substation.
“I I think it’s for the best,” Eric Kallen, vice chair of the Jacumba Community Services District, told East County Magazine.
The contract called for Jacumba Solar to pay a $100,000 “gift” on signing with an additional $250,000 lump sum payment due January 15th. The District was to provide 40 acre feet of water with an option for Jacumba Solar to purchase 28 additional acre feet if needed for construction, plus three or four acre feet a year long-term for maintenance after the project was built. The solar projecrt was proposed by Nextera, a Florida-based company.
But according to Kallen, the solar developer approached the district a few days before the January 15 deadline to terminate the contract and offered a modified agreement to pay “a lot less money” for less water, but it would not have been enough to drill a new well as the District needed to proceed. The District refused, so Jacumba Solar exercised its option to terminate the contract.
Officially, Kallen said, Jacumba Solar listed three reasons for pulling out. First, tax credits have been extended for a couple of years, so there is no rush to build. Second, the company cited labor union demands for union-scale wages that the company did not want to pay. Third, Jacumba Solar indicated the project could be delayed by the planning commission, Kallen added.
The district will be able to keep the $100,000. Kallen said he hopes to see the money used for park improvements, infrastructure and maintenance. The $250,000 payment that was cancelled would have been used to drill a new well. But Kallen states, “The District doesn’t need this contract. We’re financially in good condition.”
Kallen admits he was “not entirely comfortable” with the water deal due to cost of the new well and associated infrastructure, though he voiced confidence that Jacumba’s aquifer has "massive amounts" of water to fill the demand.
The project generated opposition from somel community members in Jacumba Hot Springs, who cited concerns that included environmental impacts, groundwater supplies, property values and fire safety. The district hired County Counsel to negotiate a contract that provided indemnification for the district in the event of any litigation, Kallen said.
So is the project dead? Not necessarily. The County has indicated the Major Use Permit application is officially still being processed.
Jacumba Solar could return in the future to renogiate a new deal with the Jacumba Community Services District. “We told them, `When you’re ready, come back and we’ll talk,” said Kallen, who doubts that will occur in the short-term future. But he added, “Even if they come back to us, it’s unlikely in my opinion that we would supply them with all the water they want; we could sell them some water, but it’s not a flowing font without end.”
Another option would be for the company could seek other water sources such as Padre Dam, which has cheaper water but would require expenses to truck it to the site. Or it could pull out of the project altogether and seek an alternative location elsewhere.