San Diego County supervisors vote to develop renewable energy projects

Solar panels and wind turbines .
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors have approved a plan to streamline development of renewable energy projects such as wind and solar in unincorporated parts of the county.
(AFP via Getty Images)

Board OKs plan to streamline projects in unincorporated areas

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors took the first steps toward developing renewable energy projects in the unincorporated areas of the county by voting unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 10, to streamline environmental review, permitting and other bureaucratic processes.

In a 5-0 vote, the board approved a pair of “regulatory and process” options designed to reduce time and costs for renewable energy developers, clarify requirements and create a checklist for projects. The board also directed staff to come back in six months and report on exploring renewable projects in the county that go beyond wind and solar, including energy storage and microgrids.

The item voted upon did not mention specific renewable energy projects or where they might be located.

“Time is of the essence and this is not going to happen overnight,” Supervisor Nora Vargas said, “but advancing these options I think will give us a good opportunity to coordinate the efforts for our county to have this work integrated into our land development code in a more efficient manner.”

In October 2019, the board of supervisors adopted an ordinance to form a community choice aggregation, or CCA, energy program but the board has not yet determined what form it will take or when it will launch.

Growing in popularity in California for just over decade, CCAs offer an alternative to traditional utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric when it comes to the purchasing of power. In a CCA, government officials in a given community make those decisions. In addition to purchasing power, community energy programs look to use the revenue they generate from customers to invest in renewable energy projects in their areas.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said although he opposed the ordinance to create a county CCA, “The board approved it and I respect that and so we want to make the best of it. We don’t want to be just a purchaser of energy, we want to be a producer of energy and the unincorporated areas are primarily the best sites for that.”

One caller during the public comment period of the Wednesday, Feb. 10 meeting — held virtually because of COVID-19 protocols — opposed building more projects in the rural backcountry of San Diego County.

“We have to continually fight to defend ourselves and our community from massive wind and solar projects,” said Donna Tisdale , chairwoman of a planning group in the town of Boulevard. “We think enough’s enough. Developers get huge subsidies from taxpayers but we get the shaft.”

— Rob Nikolewski is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune