SAN DIEGO (CN) - Environmentalists sued San Diego County and five solar power companies, claiming a massive proposed solar project will destroy thousands of acres of "irreplaceable wildlife habitat."
Solar Development, a French company, wants to build four industrial solar facilities on 1,185 acres of rural desert land in eastern San Diego County's Boulevard community. Boulevard, pop. 315, is south of Interstate 8 and about 38 miles west of El Centro.
Backcountry Against Dumps and its leader, Boulevard resident Donna Tisdale, sued 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, Rugged Solar LLC, LanEast Solar Farm LLC and LanWest, on March 4 in Superior Court.
The project, if built, will generate 140 megawatts of electricity using concentrated photovoltaic panels. Unlike the more common fixed photovoltaic systems, concentrated photovoltaic panels include tracking systems that enable them to follow the sun across the sky.
The Tierra Del Sol component, near the Mexican border, would include 2,499 trackers on 420 acres and deliver 60 megawatts of energy to the Boulevard substation via a 6-mile-long dual-circuit transmission line carried on 125- to 150-foot tall power poles, according to the complaint.
The larger Rugged project would place 3,291 trackers on 765 acres at the public entrance to the McCain Valley. It will deliver 80 megawatts of energy to the Boulevard substation via alignment with transmission lines at the proposed Tule Wind Energy project, which is near the Rugged project site.
The Board of Supervisors on March 4 denied permits for the Tierra Del Sol component, at the company's request, but the Rugged facility is still slated for construction, according to the board's minute order .
In addition to the solar trackers and transmission cable lines, the project will include a 160-megawatt lithium-ion battery storage system housed in 160 large shipping containers across 7 acres of the Rugged site. The storage battery first appeared in the final project environmental impact report as alternative 2, according to the complaint.
Tisdale told Courthouse News that the Soitec project's location is one of its most troubling aspects.
It is slated for a rural, high fire-risk area that is groundwater-dependent and not zoned for industrial use, she said.
It is also near the McCain Valley Resource Conservation Area.
Established in 1963, the McCain Valley covers 38,692 acres of public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Large oak trees shade the valley's chaparral hills and fan palm oases, which are home to the Peninsular bighorn sheep and several other desert species. People visit year-round to go hiking, backpacking and horseback riding on the winding trails, camp in the high desert, and view local wildlife, according to the Bureau's McCain Valley page.
The Bureau of Land Management is not a party to the complaint.
Tisdale says in the complaint that she lives on a ranch north of the Tierra Del Sol project site. She claims the project will deplete groundwater, which she relies on for her ranch, reduce the amount of available agricultural land, and will prevent her from enjoying the beautiful views on her property.
The complaint describes the project area as "pristine, desert setting which supports a wide range of habitats and biological communities including scrub, chaparral, and woodland."