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Renewal Energy Overlay Options Presented to Sponsor Group

 

Last updated 12/16/2020 at 1:56pm



The Community Sponsor Group is chartered by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to be an advisory group providing community input from smaller unincorporated communities such as Borrego Springs regarding local land use and planning matters and other items that impact the local economy and livability. The Sponsor Group welcomes public participation at monthly meetings. It deliberates and communicates community input to the County staff and Board of Supervisors.

At the Dec. 3 meeting, county staff presented to the Sponsor Group the results of a preliminary study that has been completed on Renewable Energy Overlay Options. This study was conducted in response to a County Board of Supervisors request in April 2020 to investigate options to streamline the environmental review process for renewable energy projects, including the options of preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR), identifying ideal locations for renewable energy projects, and developing a design review checklist exemption process. The results of this preliminary study will be presented at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 9 to discuss options on next steps.

The output of the study, a conceptual map of potential Solar and wind energy sites, includes potential sites in Borrego Springs and Ocotillo Wells. The map and board report are available for review at: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/pds/advance/renewableenergyoverlay.html.

The study focused on identifying land that was suitable for Solar fields and wind farms and within three miles of existing transmission lines. As the map shows, the study has identified areas in Borrego Springs and Ocotillo Wells that are just outside but adjacent to state park boundaries. From previous proposals we know that excess renewable energy produced in the valley must be transported to the west along the existing right of way along Route 78 to Scissors Crossing and thence along Route S2 to the Substation on the intersection with Route 79 near Warner’s Ranch. The existing 30 foot poles along the right of way will have to be replaced with 75 foot steel towers for high voltage transmission. This was one of the proposed routes for the Sunrise Powerlink, a Solar development project proposed 15 years ago, and its route through the State Park was eventually abandoned in the face of strong, sustained opposition from a coalition of local and county-wide groups that were opposed to the compromise of the pristine wilderness of the largest state park in California.

Many residents present at the meeting were veterans of the Sunrise Powerlink battle and directed the Sponsor Group Chair, Rebecca Falk to write a letter summarizing their comments to the Board of Supervisors of the adverse impact of development of industrial scale Solar and wind power within Anza-Borrego. Speakers also expressed displeasure at the late engagement with the Borrego Springs community and the Sponsor Group less than one week prior to the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Recent state-wide mandates on the transition of passenger vehicle and freight transportation to electric cars, and light and heavy duty trucks creates a rapidly increasing demand for a clean and renewable electric supply over the next two decades. According to county staff, studies indicate that the future demand for clean, renewable electricity supply to support the region’s residential and industrial needs cannot be met with rooftop Solar in the cities and incorporated communities. Speakers questioned this assertion and expressed frustration that the county had failed in the last 15 years to make greater progress on encouraging large scale deployment of rooftop Solar nearer to the consumers of energy.

Over the coming months and years, we can anticipate that unincorporated communities like Borrego Springs will continue to be pressured into accepting the demand for using our open land resources to feed the thirst for energy from development in our neighbor communities to the west. Once again, the Borrego Springs community needs to contribute time, energy and expertise to county-wide efforts to find solutions that balance development of megawatts of renewable energy needed to wean us off fossil fuels, while simultaneously protecting our beloved wilderness spaces for wildlife habitat and humans alike.

County staff also presented to the sponsor group a progress report on continuing work to streamline California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements and simplify certain permitting and approval processes, especially for small residential and business construction projects. Particularly relevant to the Borrego Springs community are aspects that may simplify drainage and stormwater requirements for small improvement projects such as fences. This work is in progress. County staff invites your feedback, questions and concerns. Please contact Mark Slovick, PDS Deputy Director, phone: 858.495.5172, email: mark.slovick@sdcounty.ca.gov.

The next regular meeting of the Sponsor Group will be held Jan. 7, 2021, 4:30 p.m., via teleconferencing. The proposal to pursue an administrative permit and expedited checklist for the La Casa del Zorro Solar Project will be back on the January Sponsor Group agenda for the third time. Chair Falk has learned that there have been no proposed changes to the project since the previous review and environmental reports are not yet available. Nevertheless, the developer has requested reconsideration.

The Sponsor Group appreciates hearing from and participation of all residents and stakeholders.

For further information and to be added to the Sponsor Group email list to receive agendas and agenda packets, contact the Chair at rebfalk7@gmail.com. Address U.S. mail to: Community Sponsor Group, P.O. Box 1371, Borrego Springs, CA 92004-1371, or visit: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/pds/gpupdate/comm/borrego.html

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