Friday, September 19, 2014 • 08:58
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VC residents object vehemently to solar project


June 18, 2014
During the June 9 Valley Center Community Planning Group meeting, 26 residents showed up to protest the Wilkes Solar Project. Owner of the solar project, Phyllis Mabbett with Shane Arlen Barksdale, contact for Desmond Power Products, LLC, appeared before the Planning Group for a discussion and vote on the Application for an Environmental Initial Study (AEIS) for solar installation at 29660 Wilkes Road and Mystery Mountain Road. The project is a 10-acre, 1.9 megawatt export electrical system located on a 16.97 acre lot.

Planning Group Secretary Steve Hutchison described the solar devices as tripods having two legs in back and one in front with the lowest being eight feet. There are 10 solar panels per tripod with a total of 675 tripods having 6,750 panels. The applicant gave an option of using 20 panels per tripod, dividing the number of tripods in half. It was explained that increasing the efficiency of the panels would further reduce the number of panels required.

In referring to the solar panels, Hutchison stated:

"When we did the walk-through there, it appeared some on the site were already set up, which surprised us. It is the intention of the applicant to put those solar panels in place in conjunction with agricultural uses in between the rows. And those agricultural uses that they cited were possibly grapes, avocados, and citrus."

He continued the summary of the project by saying:

"The power generation is purported to be primarily for agricultural irrigation water pumping with the excess to be sold to SDGE."

The proposed solar project will be fenced and shielded with avocado and citrus trees planted around the perimeter. Interspersed between rows of solar panels will be rows of grapevines.

Hutchison stated many of the residences surrounding the site are elevated so a fence would prove inadequate in providing much of a shield. Neighbors surrounding the project expressed concern with the intense reflective glare of the solar panels as well as the flight hazard created when glare experienced by pilots creates a temporary blinding effect due to the project's location within the flight pattern of nearby Blackington Airport.

Another safety concern of the neighborhood was the additional intense heat created by the solar project contributing to the already high-risk fire danger area consisting of 91 acres of overgrown sage brush and chaparral in close proximity to the project.

An additional problem cited was excessive dust generated due to inadequate water amounts applied during the extensive grading process of moving dirt. Neighbors attributed breathing difficulties including asthma to improper grading procedures with the results of the moved dirt labeled an eyesore. It was expressed that incorrect grading resulted in improper compaction. A neighbor relayed she had been riding horses on the property for 20 years and, after the grading, the horses sunk into dirt to the extent that prevented traveling across the property.

Furthermore, existing trees on the solar site were described as no longer viable and the usefulness of agriculture within the solar project was doubted. There was a consensus among the residents that visibility of the solar project from adjacent property severely impacted property views and resulted in having a detrimental effect on property values.

Residents contested to a project of this magnitude being introduced into their neighborhood without prior notification or any publicity. Most of those gathered in protest referred to the solar project as an industrial project cloaked in the guise of an agricultural project located within an agricultural-zoned residential community.

Furthermore, existing dwellings on the site were questioned about violating county codes and whether inhabitants were in code compliance. Neighboring residents were in agreement that this is an inappropriate project for the area.

To all the many objections, the applicant responded, "I've taken copious notes and gosh, I don't know where to start." He began by stating, "I haven't given anyone permission to ride horses on the property. They are trespassing."

Dr. Barksdale introduced himself as a graduate of Rice University in Houston, Texas. Claiming five patents and two PhDs in Physics, he maintained he also had roots in farming and agriculture.

"I have one foot in agriculture and one foot in technology," Barksdale said. "I'm one of the few people who understand and can go forward to make thess complimentaries work together."

He described his solar plan as a farm harvesting the sun. He maintained his decision was to move his grapevine operation from Lodi to Valley Center where he has been residing for 11 years.

Barksdale described the meeting as a "piled-on situation" and instead invited neighbors to knock on his door to discuss any problems on a personal one-on-one forum. He addressed the glare concern and other issues expressed as "struggling with fear of the unknown."

"I don't know how to respond to fear mongering," he said.

The proponent stated that water lines existed and water had been applied to grading necessary to level dirt for grapevine planting. He stated he was operating within county guidelines and would continue to do so. He stated he had no control of when and how the county notified property owners.

"All of a sudden, you're finding out two and a half years later that your neighbors are coming up, basically in arms, to start complaining about what you're doing. As agricultural people you run tractors, plows, and bulldozers. That's part of the agriculture business," Barksdale said.

In response to the glare concern, he responded saying the neighbors were distant and obscured and would not be affected. In addressing the optical issue, he explained that a flat panel doesn't reflect light; a curved surface is required to concentrate light. He also stated it was not possible to ignite brush to the north. In addressing the flight hazard, Barksdale explained the flight path runs north and south and the solar panels track east and west; thereby, only a narrow window of time at noon existed that could hamper air operations. Barksdale referred to the numerous concerns as "patently absurd commentary." He told the group to "go get some data." He advised those protesting to present "realistic, validated concerns."

As the meeting concluded, a heated discussion erupted between Chair Oliver Smith and Barksdale after Smith broached the subject of county code violations, saying:

"To be honest with you, sir, you may, sir, have code review out to look at it and so on. I would like to independently check with the county to see what they have to say."

Barksdale responded, "Oliver, I'm confused. You're making metaphors again and I don't understand it. You're talking about the grading permit required."

Smith interrupted in anger, "No, I'm talking about the grading permit for the last 10 years. That's my concern."

Barksdale responded, "There's use by right permit for agriculture. When you're plowing, do you have to have a water truck coming down to plow with on a farm?"

Smith responded, " You don't plow with a bulldozer."

Barksdale answered, "Yes, you do."

The argument was deflected when members of the Planning Group made a motion to continue the discussion for July.

Barksdale continued the argument saying, "We have a committee that doesn't have the right information about the zoning and the codes and they're going to use that to attack me and my project."

The last topic on the agenda was the letter to Supervisor Horn concerning the March 2014 presentation to VCPG on the Bee Keeping Ordinance proposal. The meeting adjourned after a motion was made to ratify the Chair's letter to the supervisor.

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