EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit (CPU) and the adoption of a mitigated negative declaration for the Valencia 3 Solar Project Tuesday, October 6, allowing the project to move forward.

 Jim Minnick, director of Planning & Development, explained the project was originally approved in 2015 and was reapproved with minor modifications in 2018. In 2018, the concept of the project was to connect the 3-megawatt powerplant to the grid off Dogwood Road.

Subsequently, IID said they did not have the capacity for that line and requested the creation of a new line along Harris Road to connect to their existing lines.

The new CPU will allow for an approximate 1-mile Gen-tie line from the project site along the south side of Harris Road to an Imperial Irrigation District transmission line and an upgrade to an existing IID line from a single phase to a 3-phase line. The new line will be constructed by the developer and turned over to IID for ownership at a later date.

The land use analysis shows the project is zoned Mesquite Lake Heavy Industrial (ML I-3). The generation of electrical power through electrical generation plants — less than 50 megawatts — is allowed in the ML I-3 zone. However, due to the nature and intensity of the use, the solar project requires a CPU and environmental analysis.

Supervisor Jesus Escobar expressed his concern for using farmed land for a project that will create jobs in the development stages, but then taper off with employment — taking away job opportunities derived from farmland.

Minnick explained the land was already set aside by the County as industrial land. He said in 2015, they did a Renewable Energy Element that identified areas for renewable energy, designed to push solar to the edges of the Valley. However, he said that plan has not worked the way they’d hoped.

According to Minnick, there is no regulation within the zoning code or ordinance stating they cannot use farming land. He said there is a recommendation and there are certain areas that are easier to develop than others due to zoning.

“At the end of the day, the Board of Supervisors has the right to approve or deny any solar project that comes forth, as has been the case from the beginning. So, if we have a situation where a developer is asked to do an amendment to the general plan … the Board can deny that,” said Minnick.

“We want to make sure we preserve our farmland and preserve the water that goes to that farmland. The future of solar will be on the desert type area,” said Supervisor Michael Kelley.

“We have not excluded, but we’ve made an easier path outside of the farmland,” said Minnick.

Supervisor Raymond Castillo said the project was initially meant to be located in desert land in the County, but community members voiced their opposition to the project.

“I think in 2010, this Board approved a 600-megawatt solar project west of El Centro. It was out in the desert, which is where everyone was saying that’s where every solar should be … So, ideally the desert would have been, in our mind, an ideal place but the environmentalists will fight you tooth and nail. It’ll never happen,” said Castillo.

The item was approved by all five supervisors.

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