600-acre East County solar project wins county approval; residents object

Local

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to advance a 600-acre solar panel project in Jacumba Hot Springs, a desert community located in southeastern San Diego County, despite opposition by numerous residents and the co-owner of a local resort.

The board voted 5-0 to approve a conditional use permit for BayWa r.e, which is planning to develop JVR Energy Park east of Jacumba Hot Springs and north of the U.S./Mexico international border.

When fully operational, the solar farm will produce 90 megawatts of power and deliver it to an existing San Diego Gas & Electric transmission line. According to the county Planning & Services Department, it will power 57,000 homes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 508,000 metric tons and employ up to 500 for the construction phase, as part of a project labor agreement.

The developer will have to build a buffer zone of at least 400 feet between the project and Jacumba Hot Springs, contribute $4 million toward community services and set aside a 435-acre habitat preserve.

Some residents, including the Jacumba Community Sponsor Group, wanted the size of the project — which includes a 70-megawatt energy storage facility to be fueled by lithium batteries — reduced by half.

Work could begin early next year on the project, which the county Planning Commission approved July 9 in a 5-2 vote.

During a 3 1/2-hour public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, dozens of Jacumba residents said the energy park will destroy their town’s character or not offer any long-term employment. They also argued that their region already has its share of massive energy facilities, including the Sunrise Powerlink.

Jeff Osborne, one of the owners of the Jacumba Hot Springs Resort, said the project “would never ever, be proposed in an affluent community of San Diego.”

“This project should have never gotten this far, and deserves to go in the trash can today,” he said. “Please save Jacumba.”

Geoff Fallon, an executive vice president at Baywa.re, said the park will generate enough clean, reliable solar to power tens of thousands of homes in San Diego County …  the project holds significant benefits for the region and the planet.

Fallon added that his company fully intends to engage with Jacumba residents  “on how we can be a good neighbor.”

Several supervisors said that while they understood residents’ opposition, the county needed to move forward with efforts to combat climate change.

“Our planet is on fire, and we cannot delay action (on more renewables),” said board Chairman Nathan Fletcher.

While rooftop solar in more urban areas is a good idea, the county isn’t in a position to do that Wednesday, Fletcher said, adding there’s only a set amount of projects the county can approve.

Supervisor Joel Anderson, in whose district the project will be located, stressed that BayWa r.e must have an equity plan for residents. Too often, “we’ve allowed affluent communities to step on weaker communities, and it’s not right,” he said.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said while climate needs are existential, BayWa r.e has a responsibility to reduce impacts, and that means making communities whole, even if not everyone will be happy with the final project.

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