Design review board has ideas to improve look of solar farm

By Karen Brainard

While one resident called a proposed solar farm for property at Ramona Street and Warnock Drive “ugly,” members of the Ramona Design Review Board developed a list of mostly aesthetic changes for the controversial project.

Will Pritchard from Sol Orchard, Chris Brown, president of Alchemy Consulting Group, and John Andrew from RBF Consulting presented the proposed solar farm to the design review board at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Chris Anderson, a member of the board, noted that the county did not require the project to receive design review input. Anderson, who is also a member of the Ramona Community Planning Group, said she requested the representatives bring the project to the board for feedback.

“I felt it is significant, especially when it comes to the shielding,” she said.

The proposal for a solar farm has gone before the planning group about three times and has met resistance from planners and residents who believe it will be a visual blight on a section of Ramona’s agricultural land.

The solar project would take up about 45 of 110 acres at 1650 Warnock Drive on land owned by Mark Bousema. The solar panels will be on a tracking system and will be flat around noon, but tilt at a 45-degree angle east in the morning and west in the afternoon, said Pritchard.

The height of the panels when tilted would be 5 to 8 feet, he said, but added that with land variations the peak of some panels could reach a maximum of 11 feet when fully tilted.

The arrays are estimated to produce 7-1/2 megawatts of electricity.

“The sizing is such that it will feed into the local distribution system,” said Pritchard. He said the project was underwritten with a 25-year power purchase agreement that has been signed by San Diego Gas & Electric.

Bousema’s hog farm and a grazing area would remain, Pritchard said, and the panels would be installed where there is dry farming. Pritchard said this is Sol Orchard’s biggest project in San Diego County.

Donna Myers, who lives across the street from the site, was one of approximately 10 residents who came to hear the presentation and board’s comments.

“You’re taking a scenic rural beauty spot and converting it to ugly,” Myers said. “Industrial development and agricultural land are not compatible.”

Design review board member Rob Lewallen said it is not within the board’s purview to say whether the solar project can be built there.

The board works under the assumption that it will be built, Lewallen said. “We’re here to advise how it’s going to look.”

Design review member Evelyn McCormick asked why that location was selected for a solar farm.

Pritchard said it was due to three reasons: power lines located there, the size of the property, and the owner’s interest.

Environmental and maintenance issues were raised and members noted that hundreds of Canada geese fly to that area to nest. Lewallen said the geese do adapt to changes in surroundings.

Area resident Ken Brennecke questioned whether the panels would give off a glare and said, “I absolutely do not want to see a glare field.”

Pritchard said the panels are non-reflective.

Brown said the project is going through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process and the mitigated negative declaration should be finished in a couple of months. The public will then have about 30 days to comment. Some issues may require mitigation, he said.

“We’re in a heavy agricultural area,” said Myers. “I don’t think this can be mitigated. Can you ever mitigate ugly?”

After hearing landscaping plans that would try to buffer the panels, including vines on fencing and tall shrubs, the board came up with a list of recommended changes, mainly for the northwest corner of the site, where the future Dye Road extension is slated to be constructed.

The board agreed to request the following, including changes to a proposed chain link fence:

•Fencing 8 feet high for the north and west sides in green, black or brown vinyl with no barbed wire above.

•Space to plant trees that will grow approximately 40 to 50 feet on the northwest boundary where they would not create a shadow over the panels.

•Put any lights on motion sensors or shield them.

•Have landscaping plants reviewed by design review member and plant expert Carol Close, who was absent from the meeting.

•Straighten the line of panels on the northwest corner to create more setback from the future Dye Road Extension.

Brown said the requests will be taken to the county, and in January they plan to return to the planning group and then move through the county process.

Lewallen and member Greg Roberson expressed their support for locally-generated power.

   
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