By Miriam Raftery
NextEra hopes to build its solar farm close to SDG&E’s new substation, continuing the industrialization of rural Jacumba Hot Springs.
August 10, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – For planners and residents in East County, keeping track of proposed industrial solar projects has begun to resemble a tiresome game of Whack-a-Mole: one vanishes and another pops up in its place.
Such is the case in Jacumba Hot Springs, where NextEra Energy has purchased a site formerly owned by BP at Old Highway 80 and Carrizo Road next to the international border and west of the ECO substation. BP pulled out of the solar industry and cancelled its own plan for the site. Now NextEra hopes to build a 200 to 300 acre solar project there.
NextEra was named number among electric and gas utilities on Fortune magazine’s list of “world’s most admired companies.” But the company has also drawn strong criticism from Native Americans over desecration of sacred geoglyphs, from neighbors of wind projects over NextEra’s heavy-handed tactics toward those who oppose its projects, and from environmentalists over birds killed at its Genesis Soalr project.
The company’s Blythe Millennial and McCoy desert solar projects were approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management despite widespread opposition from Native American groups due to destruction or desecration of ancient sacred geoglyphs, as ECM previously reported. Alfredo Figueroa, Founder of of La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, says there is “no way that any of these sites can be mitigated.” The Congress of American Indians, Colorado Indian Tribes, Intertribal Council of Arizona and the Committee on Chicano Rights all opposed the projects. Several giant geoglyphs believed to be thousands of years old have reportedly already been destroyed. The symbols marked on the land and visible from the air are in an area believed to be the cradle of the Nahuatl peoples, the most famous branch of which (the Aztecs) migrated south and conquered most of Mexico.
NextEra sued a Canadian activist for trademark infringement after she posted a video of an eagle nest being destroyed to make way for a NextEra wind turbine, along with a parody of the company’s logo which read “Next Terror.” (The Canadian project has been built and the suit remains pending, though the activist has since announced plans to move out of the area.)
The Genesis trough solar system with parabolic mirrors at Genesis Solar has resulted in 31 bird deaths, including waterfowl and pelicans. One theory is that the massive array of mirrors resembles water, actually attracting migrating birds—a special concern during the current drought conditions when water elsewhere may be scarce.
Jesse Marshall with NextEra has asked Jacumba’s Sponsor Group to hold a special meeting on the project. However Howard Cook, chair of the community’s planning group, has advised that due to lack of a quorum in August the issue will likely need to wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting in September.
Meanwhile in Boulevard, a flood of negative public comments to County planners have documented valid reasons to suspect that Soitec Solar severely under-estimated the amount of water that construction of its proposed multiple solar projects would need. Now the company has advised local planners that it intends to put some of those projects on the back burner for now, but will press forward with its Rugged Solar site at the gateway to McCain Valley. The company retains the right to revive those projects at a later date, however.
Donna Tisdale, Chair of Boulevard’s Planning Group, has this to say. “There is no need for industrial scale rural solar projects or transmission projects that increase fire risk, impede firefighting, destroy carbon sequestering arid soils and vegetation, increase dust and dust born pathogens, consume millions of gallons of water, and degrade property values and tourism draw.”
Tisdale and most rural residents in these areas think that a smarter alternative is for energy to be produced and stored where the most energy is used. She concludes, “It would be less expensive and destructive to upgrade the existing electrical infrastructure in urban and suburban areas than to convert rural lands into energy sacrifice and export zones.”