Photo: SOITEC panel at Newberry Springs, similar to panels approved for Boulevard.
By Miriam Raftery
October 16, 2015 (Boulevard) – By a 4 to 1 vote with only Supervisor Dianne Jacob opposed, the Board of Supervisors this week approved a revised version of the controversial Rugged Acres industrial solar facility and rescinded approval of an earlier plan.
A judge had tossed out the original environmental impact review because massive battery storage facilities were added after public comment was closed. Supervisors approved a revamped plan with the energy storage facility removed.
Supervisor Jacob stated, “I strongly support solar but I believe it belongs on rooftops of both single family homes and businesses and a solar farm in the right location,” Jacob said. “This project would potentially industrialize our back country which was never meant to be. The project can no longer live up to the promises and major use findings that are needed for approval.”
Other supervisors contended that rooftop solar isn’t enough to meet state mandates for alternative energy or local power demands.
Soitec argued that the project could power up to 26,000 homes, helping offset loss of power from the San Onofre nuclear facility that shut down in 2012.
The project has drawn widespread opposition in Boulevard, where residents and hydrology experts have argued that the project poses a risk of wildfire and could drain groundwater during construction, negatively impacting wildlife habitat and well water for residents as well as scenic views at the gateway to a federal recreational preserve at McCain Valley and wilderness areas.
Supervisors also approved an expedited permit process for rooftop solar installations. According to County officials, most rooftop solar projects are already approved under same-day permitting, setting an ambitious standard.