Solar farm project meets resistance from planning group

By Karen Brainard

Ramona may see a new kind of farm pop up on its agricultural land.

“Farming the sun” is how Sol Orchard LLC describes its business. Representatives from the Carmel-based company gave an introductory presentation at the Ramona Community Planning Group’s July 7 meeting about a proposed solar farm for property at 1650 Warnock Drive.

This photo, provided by Sol Orchard, shows an aerial view of a solar orchard, at left, at a water treatment plant.

This type of farm met resistance from many planning group members who said the acres of solar arrays would not be aesthetically-pleasing on Ramona’s rural lands. They also questioned how the project would be funded and what the benefit would be to the community.

The purpose of the wholesale distributed generation solar project would be to produce energy and sell it to San Diego Gas & Electric, explained representatives from Sol Orchard.

Jeff Brothers, president of Sol Orchard, said his company has had 50 megawatts of projects approved by San Diego Gas & Electric at 19 sites.

“So we’re all over San Diego County at this point and time,” he said. “We build community solar projects.”

Utility companies have to start buying energy from renewable sources because of a state mandate. In April, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill, SBX1 2, that requires utility companies to receive one-third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Will Pritchard, also with Sol Orchard, said the proposed project for Ramona would use between 45 to 50 acres of the 110-acre property at Warnock Road and Ramona Street, owned by hog farmer Mark Bousema. Sol Orchard would act as a tenant on Bousema’s property and pay rent.

The solar panels would be south and east of the existing buildings and pond, said Pritchard, and would be set back from the roadways. The maximum height of the solar panels would be about seven feet, he said.

The proposed project would be 7½ megawatts, roughly enough power for 3,000 to 4,000 homes in Ramona, said Brothers, adding that it would be noise-free, dust-free and use little water.

Pritchard said they are developing an application, but have not formally applied to the county for a major use permit.

Planning group member Eb Hogervorst said many solar companies have been going after farmlands in that area of Ramona. He said he was contacted about a year ago and knew of other landowners who have been approached.

“What is the key to this whole area?” he asked.

Pritchard responded that power lines follow Warnock Drive and Dye Road, and the area is appealing for the projects because it is an “ag intensive zone.”

Planning group member Matt Deskovick asked whether taxpayers are ultimately paying for the solar projects.

Pritchard said there are tax incentives for renewable energy projects.

“This project will help California as a state achieves its renewable energy goal” he said.

“So they’re (SDG&E) going to take all the power that you’re producing and sell it back to us,” said planner Kevin Wallace. “You haven’t explained what good this will do for the community, other than take up the land.”

Wallace said he is not against solar, but the proposed project would be a visual blight in the middle of the valley.

“San Diego Gas and Electric, are they going to cut everyone’s bill?” he asked.

Brothers said the primary benefit will be that the energy is produced locally and not shipped in from elsewhere, which could result in increased costs to build more transmission lines.

“This energy problem is an enormous worldwide problem,” said Brothers.

He touted Germany as having more solar than any other country and said the land is still picturesque.

Chris Anderson of the planning group had a laptop computer in front of her and said she googled information about Germany’s solar. Anderson said she found an article on Green Street Journal that said the government of Germany may cut the tariffs that utility companies must pay the renewable energy producers and it could spark a downturn in the solar market.

“Let’s watch Germany. See how they handle it,” she said.

Anderson acknowledged there is no pollution from solar projects, “but there is a huge visual eyesore on our beautiful ag lands.”

Anderson said she has a problem with the state mandate and suggested taking the solar farms to unpopulated areas. Noting that Ramonans have fought to keep rural lands, she asked if the projects could go on county land.

Patrick Brown, who works on renewable projects as a planner with San Diego County’s Department of Planning and Land Use, said he believes a project is being proposed for the Ramona landfill.

RCPG member Dennis Sprong said he isn’t against solar, but the concern about aesthetics and the farming culture is “because we’ve lost vast amounts of phenomenal farmland.”

Brothers told the planning group that he appreciated the environmental and the aesthetic perspectives. As it was only an introductory presentation, no action was taken by the planning group.

Brothers told the Sentinel that Sol Orchard plans to bring the project back to the planning group at a later date.

Related posts:

  1. Jacob pushes for residential solar energy buyback plan
  2. RMWD OKs fee to reserve solar rebate
  3. Water district expects to generate savings with solar
  4. Ramona planning group to host public forum on Highland Valley/Dye/67 intersection design
  5. Grassroots group meets in town hall

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Jul 16 2011. Filed under Featured Story. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

7 Comments for “Solar farm project meets resistance from planning group”

  1. Larry Mittag

    Solar projects like this increase energy independence and decrease carbon emissions. Wouldn't it be interesting to be able to tout Ramona as being carbon-neutral and a net energy producer? I also question the esthetic judgement that decides that clean, quiet solar panels are better than pigs. Finally, why isn't it up to the land owner to decide? Isn't that more in keeping with the spirit of Ramona than arbitrary decisions from a few people on a committee?

  2. Carrie

    I think this is a good idea, granted the details may need to be worked out but I would rather have and see solar panels and hogs than more of that Sunrise Power link crap. Plus isnt this the same area that a good number of people are all for doing the southern bypass road? I think that will have more noise and impact etc than a solar farm on the area.

  3. California passed a Solar Rights Civil Code 714 back in 1980's to protect the rights of this private property owner. Solar panels are a symbol of this farmer's spirit of hope for the future. A future of naturally generated, solar electricity without the toxic air pollution or risk of nuclear meltdown. Decentralized, power production from local decentralized solar farms is a way toward foreign oil reductions and the development of a new green jobs economy. Best Wishes, Mark.

  4. Joan

    I know the owner of the hog farm and in no way does he have a hope for the future. He is more concerned with filling his bank account and that is why he is entertaining offers from several different companies in regards to "using" his land on Warnock.

    • Isn't that what capitalism is about? All the winery capitalists are doing it in their own way. Filling their bank accounts however they can. SDG$E does it everyday, leaving us with few alternatives. When I heard Mark speak at the RCPG, he also had his two sons there with him. Part of his presentation was about how he could create a profitable legacy for their future education and sustainable ownership of their property. That's hopeful.

  5. Shelly

    I am for solar farms, however, I live in Ramona and even though Brothers said it is enough energy for 3,000 to 4,000 homes in Ramona, I understand that clean energy in Ramona is not the purpose of the solar project. SDG&E is a whole other issue monopolizing our power and rates. I would love to see cost-effective, alternative energy through a company other than SDG&E. I think that giving up that much property; which would in fact dramatically impact Ramona, for a SDG&E project, (a company that does not care about our environment) is not a good idea.

  6. Danny Fincher

    Good information and Shelly you are right i agree with you.

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