East San Diego County Residents Weary of New Energy Proposals

Turbines near Boulevard, California | Photo: slworking/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Residents of the backcountry communities in eastern San Diego County, and the adjoining parts of Imperial County, have seen a lot of renewable energy related development in their area -- from the Kumeyaay and Ocotillo Express wind projects to the (temporarily shelved) Imperial Solar Two project in Ocotillo, and the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line driving the development in the first place.

And if the response to four new solar projects in the area is any indication, some of those residents are feeling like they've had enough.

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According to Miriam Raftery in the December 20 edition of East County Magazine, residents are gearing up to oppose four proposed concentrating solar projects around the San Diego backcountry hamlet of Boulevard. The projects' proponent, Soitec, wants to put concentrating PV generating panels on about 1,400 acres of land in town -- a little more than two square miles in four parcels.

The Rugged, Tierra Del Sol, LanEast and LanWest Solar projects are proposed for oak woodlands, creeks and seasonal riparian areas in the East County mountains. According to Raftery, residents point out that the firm SolOrchard also plans five projects in town, and between those, the proposed Tule, Shu'luuk, and Jewel Valley wind projects, and new substations and gen-tie lines popping up along the route of the Sunrise Powerlink, the region's rural character is about to be permanently changed.

Soitec, a San Diego-based manufacturer of concentrating PV modules, announced last week that it had opened a 15-acre manufacturing facility in San Diego, making it one of the largest solar module manufacturers in the US. That title is partly due to attrition: 2012 has not been good to solar module manufacturers.

Soitec's modules focus sunlight onto PV cells with laminated Fresnel lenses, and the firm claims its modules reach 30% efficiency. Boulevard residents fear the lenses will pose a glare hazard under certain conditions. One resident in attendance at a meeting in Boulevard last week displayed photos she'd taken of a Soitec module in San Diego that appeared to be delivering a startling amount of glare in the direction of a neighboring highway.

Boulevard's Planning Group has requested a 30-day extension of a January 7 deadline for comments on the Soitec proposals.

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