Environmental activists are gearing up for a fight against solar power in the rural borderland East County region of Boulevard, claiming that a proposed solar project will destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat.
Backcountry Against Dumps and Donna Tisdale, the group's Boulevard-based leader, have filed a lawsuit against "San Diego County, two lobbyists, several people and companies that have interest in the properties to be developed, and the developers, Soitec Solar, Tierra Del Sol Solar Farm LLC," according to a report from Courthouse News Service.
The group claims that the proposed project, to be constructed by French firm Solar Development, will "destroy 1,185 acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat and undeveloped open space, and replace it with industrial-scale energy development that will cut through the heart of the quiet and scenic Boulevard community," while depleting groundwater resources, reducing agricultural land, and destroy scenic views with transmission lines supported by poles up to 150 feet tall.
Included in the proposed development are nearly 5700 "tracker" solar panels, which can rotate to more effectively capture energy from the sun, along with a 160 megawatt battery storage system to be housed in an equal number of steel shipping containers. The total power generation from the project would be 140 megawatts, a little more than a tenth of the power-generation capabilities lost with the shuttering of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
A bit less than half of the total project has already been shot down, when the county's board of supervisors voted against a 2499-panel project that would have supplied 60 megawatts out of the total 140. The second component of the project, which would be sited at the entrance to the McCain Valley Resource Conservation Area, is still slated for eventual construction.
Plaintiffs are basing their case on an environmental impact report they say relies on "weasel words, obfuscation, and unsupported assumptions" to "down play and manipulate Soitec's real world impacts, that will destroy existing rural uses and community character," as well as threaten habitat for several endangered plant and animal species.
Another concern is water use during this prolonged period of drought — construction would require the use of up to 49 million gallons of water for dust abatement and other uses, with another 4.6 million gallons of water being used annually to wash the panels every six to eight weeks.
The project has been in the works since 2012 and was recently approved, in part, in 2015. Plaintiffs say they've submitted comments throughout the consideration process, including the suggestion of distributing the solar panels among existing structures instead of disturbing the rural landscape.
Backcountry and Tisdale are seeking revocation of the project's approval based on California Environmental Quality Act and county code violations as well as an injunction barring construction from proceeding until a new environmental review is completed.