Your Right To Vote On Battery Storage Facilities
When voters across Ventura County successfully voted for the SOAR laws, they empowered themselves with the right to decide proposals that pave over farmland or open space. Despite that safeguard, voters may be denied that right when it comes to battery storage facilities, including what may be one of the world’s largest, proposed on farmland near the intersection of Los Angeles Avenue and Grimes Canyon Road.
The project’s developer, Longroad Energy, selected the 40-acre site for their 1000-megawatt Rosa Energy project so it can more easily tie into SCE’s nearby electrical substation.
The Rosa Energy project is one of seven proposals to add battery storage facilities in the unincorporated area of Ventura County, most involving hundreds of thousands of square feet being built on SOAR-protected farmland or open space. Yet, all of these projects may be exempted from a vote of the people because a new State law (AB205) allows developers of green energy facilities to bypass local land use processes and get approval directly from the California Energy Commission. Additionally, the Board of Supervisors can sidestep SOAR’s requirement of a vote of the people by deeming large battery storage facilities “public utilities.” This would allow them to be built not only in industrial areas where they belong, but also in any zone in the unincorporated county, including on prime farmland, without a vote of the people.
The citizens of Ventura County will be best served if Longroad Energy and other battery storage developers follow the County’s land use process, and if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t make any sweeping decisions to allow major battery storage facilities in every zone.
The normal process to change the County’s General Plan to allow battery storage facilities on SOAR-protected land requires the Board of Supervisors to review and certify an Environmental Impact Report, vote on the project and if they find it worthy of approval, submit it to the voters for their approval. This makes for a more transparent process and provides a solid base of information for citizens to make their decision.
The decision to allow battery storage facilities on farmland and open space, like most land use decisions, involves trade-offs. It pits two environmental goals against each other – conservation of farmland and open space, and clean energy. Adding non-agricultural buildings to farmland would cause ripple effects to an agricultural industry already teetering on the edge of not having enough land to remain viable. On the other hand, being able to maximize the use of renewable energy by storing solar and wind energy in batteries is a key strategy to address a climate crisis that requires an all-hands-on-deck-response now.
Interestingly, Morro Bay residents just qualified a SOAR-type of initiative for the ballot to give voters a say on a 600-megawatt battery storage facility by developer Vistra on land near their downtown embarcadero, just blocks from a high school. That project, dubbed the world’s largest, would likely be eclipsed by Longroad’s Rosa Energy project if approved.
Residents in Morro Bay are concerned about the Vistra proposal after a similar facility at Moss Landing in Northern California experienced an overheating accident, causing people to shelter in place with windows closed to avoid inhaling toxic fumes.
There are several factors to consider in adding this new land use to the county and having the extra layer of a vote of the people as required by SOAR, will further vet this important decision.
Giving voters a say honors the vast majority of voters who agreed that decisions to urbanize farmland and open space rightfully rests in their hands. It is noteworthy that when voters get the opportunity to vote, they don’t always say no. As a matter of fact, voters have approved six of the eleven projects that have gone to a SOAR vote. The key is, with SOAR, voters have the right to decide. It is our hope that SOAR will be honored by the developer, the Board of Supervisors, and the California Energy Commission.
At its September 26, 2023 meeting, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to explore building energy storage facilities on farmland and open space, bypassing the General Plan Amendment and a SOAR vote of the people. We remain steadfast in defending your voting rights. Stay tuned.
To contact the Board of Supervisors and let them know these facilities are required to have a SOAR vote and voters should have a say, email [email protected].