By Dave Roberts
February 10, 2015 (San Diego)--The directive from Sacramento to policy-makers across California is unambiguous: to meet strict state mandates, we must allow for more renewable energy projects within our county.
During a Feb. 4 hearing, the Board of Supervisors approved two solar energy projects near Boulevard that expand the local portfolio of renewable energy – without burning fossil fuels and without emitting greenhouse gasses.
The vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Dianne Jacob opposed.
During lengthy testimony, many members of the public said they worried about what the project would mean for the high-desert landscape and the water table near their community, especially during construction.
On issues of air-quality and aesthetics, I can’t blame neighbors for objecting. Environmental studies show that construction activity would kick up dust and that the solar collectors themselves would be impossible to conceal.
Other documents, however, conclude that the value of 140 megawatts of solar electricity overrides the aesthetic impact of the solar farms and their temporary impacts to air quality.
Often, when handling a sensitive issue, my mantra is to “find a way to ‘Yes.’”
On this application, I explored whether I could defend a No vote. I concluded that I could not, and opted to follow the recommendation of the county’s staff and Planning Commission, which voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the application, with many conditions.
With the exception of removing an agricultural designation on part of the property, which adjoins the border with Mexico, our approval included no variances. On legal grounds, a No vote would be difficult for me to justify.
The applicant, I felt, could make a strong case that he had a right to develop the project he had proposed.
So I opted to approve a project that moves us toward compliance with state mandates.
I pushed for requirements that the applicant pay county officials for monitoring groundwater levels and that the public have access to the monitoring reports.
A county planner responded that the reports would be posted on the county’s Web site.
Like my colleagues, I would like to see solar panels on every rooftop. But that won’t move us toward meeting state mandates because the state’s renewable energy credit program does not recognize rooftop solar. I think that’s wrong. State regulators should revisit policies so all of us – from private citizens to utility company executives – are motivated to expand solar production right where we live, in residential neighborhoods.
My vote for the project is anchored, in part, to the exhaustive studies that support it.
In the words of my colleague, Supervisor Ron Roberts, “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a more-thoroughly investigated project before this board.”
Dave Roberts is Vice Chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.