By Karen Brainard
Several neighbors of San Diego Gas & Electric’s Creelman Lane substation conceded they probably can’t stop the utility from building a solar array at the site, so they instead have a request: pave the dirt road leading to it.
That, however, may not be so easily accomplished, an SDG&E official told them.
Representatives for SDG&E presented Ramona Community Planning Group with its plans to build a 5-megawatt solar photovoltaic project on about 16 acres of its 37-acre site at Creelman Lane and Ashley Street. The energy produced, said to be enough for approximately 1,000 homes, would connect to the local electrical grid, said SDG&E.
Ian Stewart, SDG&E regional public affairs manager, said the solar project will contribute to the state’s mandate for the utility to obtain 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Resident Pam Ayers noted that Ashley is one lane and Creelman is a dirt road where vehicles create a lot of dust.
“We have a severe health problem here,” she said, adding that the road is out of line, with some of it passing over private property.
“You’re going to have trucks up and down there,” Creelman Lane resident Bob Romeo said of construction and maintenance of the facility. He referred to all the vehicles at the solar farm going in at Ramona Street and Warnock Drive — a project approved by the county despite opposition from neighbors and the planning group.
“The bottom line is health, aesthetics — we’d just like it paved,” Romeo said.
Stewart noted that this is an SDG&E project, separate from Sempra Energy, and regulated by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Anything SDG&E would propose needs CPUC approval and, because major infrastructure project costs are passed through to ratepayers, regulators could determine paving the road would make the project too expensive and would unnecessarily burden customers, said an SDG&E spokesperson.
Creelman Lane residents had additional concerns and complaints. Ayers, who lives above the transmission station and will look down at the solar installation, as will other neighbors, said she worries about glare from the panels. Romeo complained about SDG&E leaving poles laying around. Homeowner Vicky Tate said the utility acquired the property in 1969 by condemnation and has not been a good neighbor.
Stewart said he was disturbed to hear SDG&E was not a good neighbor and would look into the issues.
Planner Donna Myers, who lives across from the Sol Orchard solar project at Warnock Drive and Ramona Street, had some advice for the Creelman Lane neighbors: get everything in writing. Myers said homeowners in her area were told construction workers would work eight hours a day, five days a week, but they are there 11 hours a day and work six days a week.
“The noise is incredible. The dust is incredible. They have gone through rock,” she said, mimicking the drilling sound, “day after day after day when there was supposedly no rock.”
Myers said developers said they would use 47 acres but have destroyed 110 acres.
“Nothing that they promised us has happened,” she said.
In addition, local people lost out on job opportunities because the contractors used outside labor, said Myers. A Los Angeles company put in fencing improperly and the cattle on the land kept getting out, she added.
Several at the meeting said they don’t want Ramona to become a dumping ground for solar farms.
RCPG member Chad Anderson pointed out that years ago California residents thought renewable energy was a good idea. Now, no one wants it in their backyard, he said.
Chair Jim Piva, noting this will be Ramona’s second solar farm, asked how many communities that are less rural, such as Rancho Santa Fe and Carlsbad, are getting similar solar projects. “We’re not happy we’re getting all the solar attention,” said Piva.
Stewart said La Jolla has one on a large roof structure because it doesn’t have room on the ground.
Along with Ramona, SDG&E is also proposing solar projects in Valley Center and Pala.
A representative for the SDG&E project said they anticipate applying for a major use permit from the county in January, since the area is over 10 acres. They also plan to put fencing and landscaping around the solar to screen it as much as possible.