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A sign near the Eden Valley welcome sign. Courtesy photo/Stop Seguro
A sign near the Eden Valley welcome sign. Courtesy photo/Stop Seguro
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Palomar Health denies easement for Seguro battery storage project

ESCONDIDO — The Palomar Health administration recently denied a property easement that would have allowed a proposed battery storage facility to connect to an Escondido substation via hospital grounds. 

Palomar Medical Center in Escondido is approximately 1,600 feet from 925 Country Club Drive, a 22-acre former horse ranch in the Eden Valley community where the proposed Seguro Energy Storage project would be located if approved by the county. 

The 320-megawatt facility would store enough energy from renewable sources like solar and wind to power 240,000 homes for four hours. 

According to AES Corporation, the energy company proposing to build and operate Seguro, the facility would connect to the local power grid through a new on-site substation, connecting to the nearby 30,000-kilowatt SDG&E Escondido Substation through an underground transmission line.

Residents of the Eden Valley, Harmony Grove and Elfin Forest communities are widely opposed to the project due to its proximity to hundreds of residential homes. Some fear that the lithium-ion batteries could start a fire and cause disruptive noise, air pollution and other environmental problems. 

The site of a AES Corporation's proposed Seguro Energy Storage project in the Eden Valley neighborhood. Photo by Samantha Nelson
The site of AES Corporation’s proposed Seguro Energy Storage project in Eden Valley. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Jeff Griffith, chairman of the elected Palomar Health Board of Directors, applauded CEO Diane Hansen and her staff’s decision to deny the easement. 

Griffith, who spent 33 years as a firefighter, said he has been against the project from its beginning due to his experience and concerns regarding how it could impact public safety.

According to Griffith, AES even offered compensation for the easement. 

“They really looked toward us to grant that easement,” Griffith said. “For me, the safety of the community is more important than anything financial.”

Griffith said in a statement that the Palomar Health administration’s decision to deny the easement stems from anxieties over the risk of a hazardous materials incident occurring on the project site that would impact the nearby hospital’s operations.

Griffith and residents long opposed to the Seguro facility have cited the recent Otay Mesa lithium-ion battery storage fire that burned for nearly two weeks in May. 

“As a healthcare facility, we have only two options in a scenario like that: either evacuation or shelter-in-place,” Griffith said. “Neither really works for us.”

JP Theberge, chair of the Harmony Grove/Elfin Forest Town Council and opponent of the Seguro project, was pleased with Palomar Health’s decision, citing the Otay Mesa fire as an example of what could happen in a residential community close to the hospital.

“The community watched in horror as the Otay Mesa lithium-ion battery fire burned for weeks,” Theberge said via email. “The prospect of a facility that would be five times larger, squeezed into a single-family home neighborhood surrounded by homes and 1,600 feet from a hospital is unfathomable.” 

The closest home would be 130 feet from the facility.

“We’re encouraged that the hospital has seen the facility for the threat that it poses to public health, hospital operations and the wellbeing of Escondido and unincorporated county residents,” Theberge continued.

Theberge hopes other North County elected officials like Griffith will feel the same.

“Every jurisdiction should develop clear guidelines for the placement of these facilities in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of communities who are often at the mercy of private, for-profit entities,” Theberge said.

AES responded to The Coast News’ request for comment.

“AES is continuing to evaluate all viable options for development of the Seguro Project, including a transmission line easement through Palomar Hospital property,” stated Corinne Lytle Bonine, permitting director for the project. “We are eager to continue our efforts to work with community members and stakeholders as we advance the design and permitting for this important project, which will contribute to the decarbonization goals of the County of San Diego and State of California while bringing additional benefits to the community.”

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