Jacob lone dissenter in supervisors’ approval of solar project
By Karen Brainard
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob was the lone dissenter in the Board of Supervisors’ 4 to 1 vote on Feb. 6 to approve a major use permit for Sol Orchard’s proposed 42.7-acre solar energy project at Warnock Drive and Ramona Street.
At least 15 Ramonans spoke out against the solar farm at the meeting.
Jacob said she had not heard from any Ramona residents in support of the project, and she listed faults with county staff’s
major use permit findings.
“For these larger projects, I think the key is put them in the right location, as has been stated over and over,” said Jacob, who represents District 2, which includes Ramona. “I also believe in reading all the emails, listening to all the testimony today, that the (county) Planning Commission and county staff got this one wrong. I believe that the planning group and the Citizens for a Rural Ramona got it right.”
Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) unanimously rejected the solar project in January 2012. RCPG and Citizens for a Rural Ramona (CFARR) filed appeals against the county commission’s October 2012 decision to grant the major use permit, saying the project would create visual blight, adversely affect property values, destroy agricultural land, and would be incompatible with the surrounding area. Also appealing the commission’s decision was the Laborers International Union of North America Local 89, which said the California Environmental Quality Act analysis was inadequate. The supervisors’ vote denied all appeals.
Although Jacob made a motion to uphold the appeals from CFARR and RCPG and direct staff to do an analysis of alternative sites, she could only drum up support from Supervisor Dave Roberts. She and Roberts said they visited the site.
“I really like this project. I think it’s a really good project but I also think it’s our responsibility to listen to community groups,” said Roberts.
However, Supervisors Ron Roberts, Bill Horn and Greg Cox indicated they would vote against Jacob’s motion, and in the end Dave Roberts voted with the other three.
Sol Orchard’s proposal to construct a solar farm on nearly 43 acres of the 110-acre site at 1650 Warnock Drive would produce
7.5 megawatts of electricity that would be delivered to a San Diego Gas & Electric distribution line that runs parallel to Warnock Drive.
The property is owned by Mark Bousema, who would lease a portion of the land to Sol Orchard. The single-axis tracking solar panels would range from 8 feet to 11-1/2 feet.
Ron Roberts mentioned the California law that requires the state to get 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
“These are really low impact projects with an incredible positive payout for the entire community,” he said.
“This particular project meets all criteria for a solar farm, including the critical component of proximity to power distribution,” said Planning Commissioner David Pallinger. He said the commission expanded the buffer zone and increased the landscaping requirements.
Rich Grunow, project planning chief, Department of Planning and Development Services, said there were no findings of harmful effects on community character.
“Any possible harmful visual impact would certainly be minimized by the proposed landscaping,” said Grunow.
Jacob addressed that later in the meeting, saying, “How in the world do you screen almost 43 acres of solid solar panels from both public and private properties with landscaping? Give me a break. You just can’t do it.”
Attorney Gina Austin and Ramona residents Ken Brennecke and Donna Myers represented CFARR in its presentation.
“The structure appears monolithic. It is also fabricated out of metal and glass which are jarringly inconsistent with the organic shapes, colors and patterns of the pastureland,” said Myers.
On behalf of RCPG, Chair Jim Piva, Vice Chair Scotty Ensign, and Secretary Kristi Mansolf gave a presentation.
“Sol Orchard would be the second largest industrial complex in our community of Ramona,” said Piva, noting that largest—the Ramona Airport—is on the outskirts, not in the middle of town.
Fifty-four lots meet the criteria for such a solar project, Piva said, adding that the closed county landfill is available. The Department of Public Works has considered a solar project at the landfill on Pamo Road.
About 10 Ramona residents spoke individually, stating their opposition.
“It is entirely out of the scope of our agricultural valley. Why have zoning laws if you’re going to have exceptions?” said Diane Chapman, who lives in San Diego Country Estates.
Al Iversen, a senior at Ramona High School, presented a petition with 84 student signatures against the project.
Matt Deskovick, a member of RCPG, spoke as an individual but noted that the planning group voted 15-0 against the project which “should say something.” Deskovick cited the need for farmland, noting that much of the former ranchland has been purchased by the county.
Will Pritchard with Sol Orchard said a location had to be within five miles of the Creelman substation and the proposed spot is one mile away. The site had to be a large, mostly flat area, he said, and the remaining land at the site could still be used for cattle grazing. One hundred percent of the energy will be used locally, according to Pritchard.
Bousema said he has owned the site for 12 years and has a $20,000 tax bill.
“If I could grow my own feed and raise it for my pigs…I’d do it, but I can’t. I have a high water table, I have high salt. Just can’t grow corn here. So I’m going to harvest the sun. I’m going to provide income to support my farm so I can be here for the next 25 years,” he said.
Jacob said the project is inconsistent with the Ramona Community Plan and the county zoning ordinance. The county, she said, needs a renewable energy policy and the zoning ordinance is out of date as it does not cover solar farms or solar facilities “of this magnitude.”
- Supervisors support solar project; Jacob casts lone dissenting vote
- Solar energy project scheduled for supervisors’ vote on Feb. 6
- Ramona planners want voices heard on Sol Orchard project
- Commission approves solar project permit
- Planning group schedules special meeting on solar farm project
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