San Diego County Board of Supervisors approves solar energy plant plan in Ramona

Local group appealed plant permit

RAMONA, Calif. - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny appeals and grant a major-use permit for a proposed 42.7-acre solar energy plant at the southern end of Ramona.

Sol Orchard Ramona Solar Energy, slated for 1650 Warnock Drive, would use 8-foot-tall solar panels to produce 7.5 megawatts of power for delivery to San Diego Gas & Electric using an existing distribution line.

"Solar energy can be one of the methods with the least impact to provide clean, renewable and, very importantly, local energy resources," county Planning Commissioner David Pallinger said. "This particular project meets all criteria for a solar farm, including the critical component of proximity to power distribution."

The Planning Commission voted in October to recommend approval of the permit, but Laborers International Union of North America Local 89, the Ramona Community Planning Group and Citizens for a Rural Ramona filed appeals.

Citizens boards in Ramona have voted unanimously to oppose the project, contending it would not fit with the character of the community, would take away prime agricultural land and would lead to blight.

Donna Myers of Citizens for a Rural Ramona, who lives across from the project's site, said the project was contiguous and would appear as one large object, a roof of 42.7 acres.

"The structure appears monolithic," Myers said. "It is also fabricated out of metal and glass, which are jarringly inconsistent with the organic shapes, colors and patterns of the pastureland."

Local 89, which represents construction workers, argued the project necessitated a full-scale environmental impact report.

The union has a history of intervening in the permit process in solar panel projects around the country, U-T San Diego reported. The union has argued against solar projects because of the few workers per acre the projects require, in addition to environmental concerns, according to the newspaper.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob cast the dissenting vote. She said she supported solar energy projects, but that with larger projects, it was key to find the right location. The Warnock Drive project would not be consistent with the county's Zoning Ordinance, nor compatible with the surrounding area and would impact neighborhood character, Jacob said.

"How in the world do you screen almost 43 acres of solid solar panels from both public and private properties with landscaping? Give me a break -- you just can't do it," Jacob said. She called for an independent analysis of alternate sites.

The plant would be located at the center of a 110-acre property currently used to raise livestock. The ranching operating would continue in a buffer zone around the solar panels. About a dozen houses are near the property, along with a dairy farm and a paintball facility, the county's Richard Grunow said.

Sol Orchard proposed to lease the 42.7 acres from the landowner for 25 years. The company has already won approval for a solar facility in Valley Center and has similar plans in the East County communities of Alpine and Boulevard.

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