SAN DIEGO –
Opponents of a 600-acre solar and battery storage facility to be built in the desert city of Jacumba Hot Springs in eastern San Diego County have filed a lawsuit to halt the project.
A group of local residents, including business owners, filed the 45-page lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court against the County Board of Supervisors and JVR Energy Park, which is being developed by BayWa re, an international renewable energy company . The board approved the project last month 5-0.
The lawsuit alleges that regulators violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the county's planning and zoning laws in approving the project. It also claims that JVR Energy Park's footprint is needlessly large, dwarfs cities of fewer than 600 people, causes environmental damage to wildlife, and is turning Jacumba “into an ugly, ominous industrial stain.”
A spokesman for BayWa re said the company has not commented on any pending litigation. A request for a statement from the Supervisory Board went unanswered.
Opponents of the project hired the Berkeley law firm Stephan C. Volker, lead counsel to two nonprofits that fought to block the Keystone XL pipeline project. A hearing date has not been set.
“This project would never be proposed in a more affluent community,” said Jeffrey Osborne, a lead plaintiff and owner of Jacumba Hot Springs Resort. “We have been completely plowed up, and most of the time we as a community only ask for a consideration, a contribution to transforming our city into an industrial park that is six times the size of the city itself.”
JVR Energy Park will be located on 1,356 hectares east of the Jacumba city limits. The solar panels and battery storage will take up around 600 hectares of relatively flat land, which BayWa re claims is an exceptional location for a renewable energy project.
Around 291,000 photovoltaic modules are expected to generate around 90 megawatts and 283,000 megawatt hours of energy – enough for around 60,000 households. The site will also include 70 megawatt storage powered by lithium-ion batteries, an on-site substation, and switchgear.
Proponents say the project marks a critical step on the path to renewable energy that will help California and San Diego Counties meet their carbon reduction goals. Around 350 union workers will be employed to build the project.
Before the facility was approved by regulators in August, BayWa re signed a 20-year power purchase agreement to fully take over San Diego Community Power – the Community Choice Energy program launched earlier this year, which serves five cities in the region the megawatts of solar and battery storage that the project will deliver.
“Our planet is on fire and we cannot delay the measures to combat climate change any further, invest in solar systems, pave the way for 100% renewable energies in our region.” [energy] and to do so with good local union jobs, ”said Chairman of the Board, Nathan Fletcher, at the time of the vote.
But many at Jacumba Hot Springs – which has an average household income of $ 37,000 – say that while they support renewable energy, they think the project is too big and want to cut its footprint by about half. The solar panels will cover the north and south sides of Old Highway 80, which runs through town.
BayWa re officials said significantly reducing the size of the project will make it uneconomical. However, the lawsuit alleges that the county was “deceived into authorizing the development of a much larger area than was actually required to produce the target” of 90 megawatts of solar production.
The lawsuit argues that the county violated its general plan and zoning rules by viewing the 35-year permit for the project as temporary rather than permanent and relying on a flawed final environmental impact report.
Other complaints in the filing are:
- The energy park will put visitors off at a time when Jacumba companies are trying to revive the city's reputation as a tourist destination.
- The arrangement can lead migratory birds to mistakenly believe the plates are a lake, resulting in injury and death.
- The project is on three sides of the Jacumba Airport runway, which could interfere with gliders and the battery or solar equipment could ignite wildfire.
Local residents argue that they contributed enough to the energy generation, as the city is already home to a 58-acre SDG&E ECO substation and another solar project – a 20-megawatt facility with nearly 80,000 modules on 108 acres that opened in 2017 and provides electricity for Southern California supplies Edison.
BayWa re has pledged to spend $ 4 million on charitable causes – up from a previous pledge of $ 1.6 million – and to increase the energy park's buffer zones from 90 meters to at least 400 feet and possibly 1,000 feet.
The company intends to have the building permits by the end of this year, begin evacuating in early 2022 and commission the facility by the first quarter of 2023.
BayWa re is based in Munich, Germany, with its US headquarters for solar and storage projects on a power plant scale in Irvine. The “re” at the end of the name stands for “renewable energy”.
Nikolewski writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.