JUDGE OVERTURNS COUNTY APPROVALS OF SOITEC BOULEVARD PROJECTS

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Update, August 21, 2015:  Donna Tisdale notified us that the backcountry "celebration over the death of Soitec's Boulevard projects was a bit premature. Today, County staff informed me that Soitec is going to remove the 160 cargo containers full of potentially toxic batteries from their Rugged Solar project and will resubmit the revised EIR for certification by the Board of Supervisors. (Back in February, Soitec self-terminated their Tierra Del Sol Solar project just 1 month after receiving Board approval due to a lack of buyers.) Staff is trying to docket the revised EIR for the Board agenda by October so they can meet the Court's order to report back by November 2nd on how they plan to comply," adds Tisdale, who concludes, "The battle to save the backcountry continues."

 

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: A Soitec solar panel in Newbury Springs, California

August 20, 2015 (Boulevard) – The last of four massive solar projects proposed by Soitec Solar in Boulevard may now be officially dead.

On August 7th, Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil  overturned County Supervisors’ approvals of Soitec’s Rugged Acres and Tierra del Sol projects,  because the approvals violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)  Soitec and the County failed to file an appeal by the August 14th deadline, says Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group and founder of Backcountry Against Dumps, which filed the lawsuit aiming to halt the project. View the court's judgment.

“Soitec’s Boulevard projects, approved for 1,200 acres, are now dead and buried!” Tisdale wrote in an email to project opponents. Any new projects proposed for those sites would need to start all over at step one,” requiring a new environmental impacts review, a lengthy and costly process. “I have asked the County for details on when they will set aside their voided approvals, as mandated by the court,” Tisdale added.

Judge Wohlfeil wrote in his judgment, “The San Diego County Board of Supervisors (the "Board") shall RESCIND AND VACATE its approval of the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (the "FPEIR")and associated Findings and Statement of Overriding Considerations for the Soitec Solar Project

1 that Petitioners challenged herein  (the "Project"), Major Use Permit Nos. PDS2012-3300-12-007

and PDS2012-3300-12-010, respectively, for the Rugged and Tierra Del Sol components of the

Project, Ordinance No. 10375 rezoning the Tierra Del Sol component of the Project, and

Resolution No. 15-015 disestablishing the Maupin Agricultural Preserve, because such approvals

are contrary to the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), Public Resources Code

section 21000 et seq”.

Soitec originally proposed four projects, two of which were approved by the County for construction: Rugged Acres and Tierra del Sol.  But the financially troubled French company later announced it has exited the solar business, despite receiving $25 million in federal money for its solar manufacturing in Rancho Bernardo.  Soitec  sold its Rancho Bernardo facility to ConcernSolar and withdrew its plans for Tierra del Sol.

All of the projects drew strong community opposition over concerns that included destruction of meadows and wetlands, habitat and scenic views as well as increased fire danger and depletion of groundwater for construction, among other concerns. (Photo, right: meadow with mature pine tree at one of the proposed Soitec sites)  The lands included public and private property at the gateway to McCain Valley, a federal recreation area, and multiple federal wilderness locations.

Only Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents East County, voted against the Soitec projects in Boulevard. The other four Supervisors voted yes.  State Senator Joel Anderson, who has been named as a likely candidate to run against Jacob in the next Supervisorial race, lobbied Supervisors to support the Soitec Project on  Rough Acres Ranch owned by the Hamann Companies, a major contributor to Anderson’s campaigns.

News of the projects’ demise in the wake of Soitec opting not to appeal its final project drew reactions of glee from some community members.

In an e-mail to ECM, Tisdale wrote, “We did not win on all counts in our lawsuit, but we did win in the face of extreme odds and undeservedly strong political support for Soitec.  This was an especially sweet and gratifying win for us. Soitec's Boulevard projects were un-democratically sanctioned by Governor Brown as fast-tracked Environmental Leadership projects, the feds granted them $25 million for their Rancho Bernardo factory, the state gave them $10 million or more for employee training and such, San Diego City expanded the Enterprise Zone and gave them additional incentives and benefits. And the County Planning and Development Services, Planning Commission,  and 4 of our 5 Supervisors bent over backwards to ram Soitec's experimental and high-priced projects through the environmental review process by blatantly denying and/or overriding significant  negative impacts to our community, Boulevard's Community Plan, and public health and safety overall. It was as if decision makers forgot all about the 14 years and millions of dollars invested in our General Plan Update that was supposed to keep rural communities rural and reduce development in fire prone areas.”

Tisdale concludes, “Community involvement, determination, and due diligence paid off in the end, along with Soitec's timely self implosion and decision to exit the solar business after SDG&E terminated their Power Purchase Agreements. Now, if we could only get Soitec to pay back all the public funds they wasted!

Howard Cook, former chair of the Jacumba Sponsor Group, also welcomed the news. “This is also a win for Jacumba,” he told ECM in an e-mail, noting that Jacumba’s water district had agreed to supply groundwater despite a Local Agencies Formation Commission (LAFCO) rule against outside water sales.

Cook adds, “ I also have to ask why our precious groundwater supplies are being promised to out of the country and out of state energy companies.”  He cited Iberdrola of Spain, developer of Tule Wind, Soitec Solar, a French firm, and Nextera of Florida, which aims to build Jacumba Solar—all seeking water from Jacumba.  If groundwater supplies become depleted, as a hydrologist from San Diego State warned could occur with the Soitec Solar projects alone, Cook fears residents in Jacumba could be forced to leave their town.

The news also brought cheer to many residents in Pine Valley, where shareholders in the Pine Valley Mutual Water Company have been seeking to overturn their water board's decision to sell 5 million gallos of Pine Valley water to the newly formed Rough Acres Water District that had aimed to use Pine Valley's water for the Rugged Acres solar project.

Robert Zaidman, a Pine Valley resident praised Tisdale and "all the great people that stood up for Boulevard have reminded us that there are avenues of justice...What about the public trustees that failed to deliver it? Boulevard is an example of actual heroism, not the mythical kind we see from those who self-anoint and self appoint."

Correction: The Jacumba Community Service District has forwarded correspondence to/from County Counsel advising that sale of water to SDG&E or other outside uses is allowed as long as it is non-potable water.  View correspondence here. 

 

Comments

Here's what expert Jim Bell has to say:

Jim Bell is an internationally recognized expert on sustainable design.  He says Roger's facts on efficiency are "largely correct" but  clarifies that parking lot solar plus rooftop CAN fully supply our region's electricity needs.

He states, "I agree that roof top solar won’t be sufficient to supply every one’s energy need. That’s why my calculations assumed the installation of PV panels on roof and over parking lots, (shaded parking). My calculations also assumed that each person uses 16 kWh of electricity and 24 kWh equivalent of liquid and gaseous fuels per day."

Jim has written a paper, Consciousness & Knowledge, that includes a section about the benefits of the region becoming renewable energy self-sufficient.  He invites Roger to read and critique it. "If he finds any mistakes , I’d like to know them."

We've previously interviewed Jim Bell and you can read more about him here.

I don't know where people get these non-facts!

"If we all had electric cars and charged them using solar on our roofs [ . . . ]" I don't no where people get these non-facts! It may be a mass case of Innumeracy. LET"S DO THE MATH TOGETHER.

On a clear cloudless day, there is about one horsepower per square meter solar perpendicular of sunlight. The best of today's solar cells can capture about a quarter of that in a laboratory setting. (As photovoltaic cells age in the outdoors, their efficiency drops.) A chemical battery charge recharge cycle of an electric car looses at least one quarter of the energy. (As electrochemical batteries age, they also lose efficiency. This is especially true for electric automobile batteries.) The sun shines about half of a 24 hour day. So, unless you live in a mansion with a football field size roof and drive a very very compact car only a few minutes a day, powering your car with a rooftop solar system is not even a science fiction fantasy. One hopes that future energy plans are based on reality.

Rooftop solar can't power modern civilization alone, and It takes just a few minutes to collect the facts that prove it won't. Large solar and wind farms, plus major lifestyle changes are required. Every absurd anti-renewables rumor like this from the fossil fuel company spin doctors that is circulated, just dumps more CO2 into the atmosphere.

I suggest good fact checking.

I've ask an expert to weigh in here, hopefully he will.

Jim Bell did the studies on rooftop space for solar and how much of our needs it can power. He is a world expert who has spoken on these issues at major conferences around the globe.

Rooftop solar may not be the answer everywhere but in San Diego, it shoudl be the main solution for our current energy needs, at least before we factor solar cars in, the math on the rest HAS been done.

Of course for electric cars, having chargers at places like shopping malls, colleges, major work places etc. would mean people don't have to do all the charging at their homes. Hillsides can be used, not just rooftops, and parking lots can be covered at commercial facilities.

I don't think anyone has ever said we have to get to zero fossil fuel use in the immediate future, though scientists do agree we need to make dramatic cuts in use.  Even if the electric cars are not 100% ready to be powered by solar, there are plenty of other things that CAN be and we can also cut emissions with mass transit and other factors.

I just can't understand the mentality of sacrificing our wildlife and open spaces and the health and safety of the people who live in those areas when the San Diego region CAN meet the state's energy mandate and well beyond in other ways.  The idea that rural peoples' lives don't count, or wildlife or open spaces that many cherish, is what turns so many against believing in climate change --since it's being used to foist highly negative projects on people via predatory energies acting much like the big mining and oil companies have done for so long.

If it's so necessary to destroy the earth to save it, why aren't these being proposed in people the rich care about, like our beaches in La Jolla and Del Mar?  The areas being targeted are economically disadvantaged, with a high percentage living below the federal poverty line.  People concerned about social justice should be deeply concerned about that.

 

 

 

 

 

Soitec etc.

Mr. Cook's comments regarding the Jacumba Water District (JCSD) sales of water being in violation of LAFCO rules is misleading or worse. In 2010 the same issue was raised and the JCSD obtained a document from County Counsel stating, in words succinct, that the JCSD is allowed to sell non-potable water outside of the district bed upon state law, which supersedes LAFCO rules. As I read Mr. Cook's comments, I could not help but to wonder why it made any difference if the project developer was French, German, Finn or any other. I guess Mr. Cook thinks that we should only sell non-potable water to American and especially Californian owned projects. Lastly, there is no evidence that the sale of non-potable water will damage Jacumba's water despite Mr. Cook's protests. Perhaps the next time the East County Magazine runs a story like this one they will ask for comments from the JCSD. Otherwise the reporting cannot be said to be balanced.

Remove renewables and face global warming.

Penny Wise and Planet Foolish

Remove renewables like wind and solar, and they will be replaced by Carbon based fossil fuels, like coal and oil. Burn Carbon and generate CO2, the major anthropogenic greenhouse gas. The warming caused by the anthropogenically enhanced greenhouse effect will far far surpass the small complaints against solar and wind projects, both in extent and duration.

It's overly simplistic to insist siting doesn't matter.

People I've interviewed who oppose these projects are NOT anti-renewable. Donna has a small windmill at her own property.  Others have solar on their roofs.  Jim Bell has calculated there is more than enough available rooftop space in San Diego County to meet all of our region's energy needs with no need for any of these remote desert solar or industrial-scale wind projects.  Countries like Germany put smaller wind turbines on roofs.  We can do solar on parking lots, in the already-built enviornment. By your logic if we were to suggest lining the Grand Canyon or the top of Half Dome with wind turbines, you'd say we must do it or destroy the planet with global warming.  There has to be some sensible limits on where to put big energy projects, and it's insulting to say the only alternative in a place like sunny San Diego is coal or oil.  That's just not true here. Read Jim Bell's works.  We can also cut our greenhouse gas emissions a lot with mass transit and vehicles that run on alternative fuels.  If we all had electric cars and charged them using solar on our roofs, we woudn't need to ruin people's lives in rural areas or destroy vast tracts of wildlife habitat. Why don't you care about people or endangered species at risk? We have only a handful of eagles left in our region and Tule Wind's maker wants to get eagle take permits allowing it to kill them.  That is not green.

Complaints against solar and wind are not small. Our photographer in Ocotillo, whose house is surrounded on 3 sides by 500-foot-tall wind turbines, describes it as "hell on earth" living there now. He has flashing red lights shining in his windows all night long. There is noise, infrasound, vibrations, that are painful.  I've personally felt ear pain and pressure near both those turbines and those in Campo on a windy day. I couldn't imagine being forced to live by these - it would drive me insane.  Not everyone is sensitive to that, everyone's body is different, but for those who are affected it is very real uncomfortable and such invasion of people's homes should NOT be advocated by anyone with compassion for their fellow man. 

 

 

 

 

Nobody

advocated eliminating renewables -- you made that up.

Good for Donna Tisdale --

now how about a recall of the corrupt County Supervisors who voted for this project.