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County looking deeper into General Plan update

March 24, 2014

Josh Hart, County Planning Director

At the conclusion of last week’s Renewable Energy General Plan workshop, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors approved a grant application to the California Energy Commission that will help fund continued research on renewable energy and energy transmission.
If approved by the CEC, the Board of Supervisors is planning to use the funding to further research one of the more controversial renewable energy development areas identified in the draft REGPA, the Owens Valley site, located between Independence and Lone Pine. The Owens Valley REDA includes land that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is proposing to build a 200 megawatt solar ranch on.
With that in mind, the board asked that the grant application also include language that will allow the Planning Department to use funds to “engage public and private partners,” including the LADWP, to look closer at the REDA.
The CEC’s Renewable Energy Conservation Planning Grant was created in 2011 to provide up to $7 million to specific counties, including Inyo, to update General Plans and zoning ordinances to address renewable energy.
The first phase of the grant was used to complete an environmental impact report and other technical documents for the proposed REGPA.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio said this phase of the grant, Phase IIb, could be used to address many of the concerns that residents raised during a four-hour comment period last week. “Much of the concern focused on the Owens Valley (REDA) specifically,” Carunchio said. But he added that the county also needs solid answers regarding transmission corridors and transmission capacity. Many residents have expressed a fear that current transmission lines that travel through the Owens Valley to Southern California are near capacity and new solar developments may mean new transmission corridors.
Planning Director Josh Hard recommended that the county use the grant to research the CEC’s transmission corridor siting process so the county can get those answers as it moves forward with its REGPA.
“Transmission terrifies me,” Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said, explaining that he doesn’t want to inadvertently invite new transmission corridors into the valley. “This application should engage the LADWP and take a refined look at the Owens Valley (REDA).”
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius agreed that the county does not want to promote the development of new transmission corridors, but she said there are answers about transmission that need to be answered. “I think we need transmission here, as long as it’s not perceived that we’re inviting” new development, Arcularius said in reference to the grant application.
The intent of including language in the grant application about researching transmission corridors, Hart said, would be to influence where transmission is placed if new lines are built in the future.
Ultimately, the board agreed that, if the county could get the LADWP to the table to discuss its Solar Ranch project and the REGPA in general, transmission corridor would be a topic of discussion.
The board approved the grant application, directing staff to use the funds to take a closer look at the Owens Valley REDA and solar development opportunities on Owens Lake, and to “engage” the LADWP in the discussion.
“The elephant in the room is that this is LADWP land, and how we can develop the best plan” for that land, Griffiths said.
Local resident Sally Miller and several other residents said they supported the grant application because it is one way to get the answers the community needs. “I support applying for more focused planning and bringing LADWP to the table,” Miller said.
Mark Bagley of the Sierra Club said the club would support the idea of further planning on the Owens Valley REDA.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the draft REGPA and consider approving the document at its April 1 meeting. The document going before the board is a draft, so any information gleaned from use of the CEC grant could be added to the REGPA before final approval later this fall.

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