By Karen Brainard
Despite Sol Orchard’s efforts to lessen the visual impacts of its proposed solar farm at Warnock Road and Ramona Street, Ramona Community Planning Group soundly rejected the environmental documents for the project at a special meeting May 24.
The public may view the environmental documents at sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/ceqa/3300-11-029.html and Ramona Library, 1275 Main St. Comments must be received by 4 p.m. June 1.
Eight of the 15 planning group members were joined by six of the nine-member design review board to review the mitigated negative declaration of the proposed photovoltaic solar farm on property owned by Mark Bousema. Sol Orchard LLC would lease 45 acres of the 110-acre site to install panels on a single-axis tracking system that would produce 7.5 megawatts of electricity. The energy would be sold to San Diego Gas & Electric and delivered to a distribution line that runs parallel to Warnock Road. The term of the proposed lease is 25 years.
The project requires a major use permit and was unanimously opposed by Ramona planners in January, but was approved by the San Diego County Planning Commission.
Among the approximately 45 people attending the special meeting, with the majority opposing the project, was Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group, who warned of possible health risks.
Tisdale, who has fought solar and wind farms for her rural area, said studies are being conducted on electromagnetic radiation from solar farms.
“There’s a lot of dirty electricity that gets dumped into the ground,” she said.
Studies also include emissions from wind turbines, she added, because there are reports of people living near the turbines getting sick. Tisdale said that a wind energy ordinance will come before the planning commission and she asked the members to join the Boulevard planners in opposing it.
Will Pritchard from Sol Orchard, Chris Brown, president of Alchemy Consulting Group, and Steve Wragg from RBF Consulting presented landscaping and setback changes they added to mitigate the views of the panels from surrounding neighbors. Those changes included screening the panels with trees on the northern edge and other vegetation, as recommended by the Ramona Design Review Board.
Residents questioned statements in the environmental documents about the maintenance and watering of vegetation. Pritchard said plants will be drought tolerant. According to Wragg, plants will initially be irrigated with well water. If any plants die, Sol Orchard will be required to replace them, he said. Project officials also noted that they have doubled the setback from the road to 60 feet, as suggested by the design review board.
Planning group member Paul Stykel said he believed the landscaping would mitigate views for people at eye level but not those on surrounding hillsides.
“I would hate for somebody’s hillside property to be devalued,” he said.
Residents opposing the project said they are not against solar, just the location. “It’s a great idea. It’s a very poor location,” said Kathy DeSilva.
“This is a commercial industrial complex being placed in prime agricultural land,” said Donna Myers.
The planning commission will vote on the mitigated negative declaration after reviewing public comments.