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Groups urge continued vigilance

April 7, 2014

At an April 1, 2014 press conference, held on the steps of the Inyo County Courthouse in Independence, stakeholders called on the Inyo County Board of Supervisors to protect the Owens Valley from industrial-scale renewable energy development. Photo by Judyth Greenburgh

Though Inyo residents are breathing a sigh of relief after last week’s unveiling of a revised draft Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment, the focus is now shifting to the work that remains to be done.
A workshop today on the county’s renewable energy ordinance at the Board of Supervisors meeting in Independence is expected to draw another large crowd.
Meanwhile, the Manzanar Committee, Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley and Owens Valley Committee are encouraging residents to remain vigilant as the county proceeds with incorporating public input into a finalized REGPA. The groups also caution that renewable energy development policy throughout the state is still going to have an impact on what happens in the Owens Valley.
These same groups gathered on April 1 for a press conference on the courthouse steps before the Board of Supervisors met to weigh in on the REGPA. Their message was clear: we must protect the Owens Valley and the Manzanar National Historic Site from being devastated by large-scale renewable energy development.
At the board meeting, Planning Department staff presented a new draft REGPA that eliminates the Centennial Flat/Darwin and Owens Valley Renewable Energy Development Areas, reduces the size of several other REDAs, eliminates the development of wind energy and provides caps for solar development. The Owens Valley REDA is located between Independence and Lone Pine, east of U.S. Highway 395 – in the same vicinity as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s proposed 200 megwatt, 1,200-acre Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch.
While residents were pleased with the Planning Department’s revisions and many said they now feel comfortable moving forward with the REGPA, there are still several issues that need to be resolved.
Alan Bacock, Water Program manger for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley, said that the Owens Valley REDA has been pulled from the REGPA for now, but residents should keep in mind that the REDA has not gone away.
“… Even though the Owens Valley REDA was erased from the map, it continues to exist,” Bacock said. “The location is no longer defined, but it now includes all areas within the Owens Valley.”
Planning Director Josh Hart is scheduled to host a workshop with the Board of Supervisors today to discuss the County’s Title 21 Renewable Energy Ordinance, then go before the board next week to discuss a proposal on how to handle the Owens Valley REDA.
“The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch and the Owens Valley REDA are definitely not off the table, as they are now going to be studied in conjunction with the latest $400,000 California Energy Commission grant that was just awarded to Inyo County,” said Mary Roper, president of the Owens Valley Committee. “There was an assumption on the part of the public, not based on any action that was taken at (last week’s) board meeting, that this ‘Less Less Intensive’ REDA map was the one that was going to go forward. This is not the case at all.”
The Board of Supervisors has proposed limiting renewable energy development in the Owens Valley to 250 megawatts, which is the capacity currently available on the LADWP Inyo-Rinaldi Transmission Corridor through the valley, but no action will be taken on that idea until Hart presents his plan to the board next week.
Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey said that the Board of Supervisors took public input into account when considering the new draft REGPA, but he also said that the fight against large-scale renewable energy development in the Owens Valley, especially within the viewshed of the Manzanar National Historic Site, must continue.
“The Inyo County Planning Department suggested some criteria to add to the REGPA to determine whether a solar project should be built, including mitigating impacts to the culture and economy, and to avoid significant alterations to the viewshed of Owens Valley,” he said. “These are important considerations. But while the Manzanar Committee appreciates the Board of Supervisors taking our concerns seriously, no firm decision was made. We intend to remain vigilant, continue to organize against the LADWP’s plans for the SOVSR, and push for distributed solar energy projects in Los Angeles, and in the Owens Valley, so there will be no need for large-scale industrial solar projects that would destroy the viewshed of the Manzanar National Historic Site,” he added.
The LADWP’s SOVSR remains on the drawing board as well as the negotiating table.
Inyo County and the LADWP approved a non-binding term sheet that could lead to a Memorandum of Understanding on the solar ranch between the two entities. That agreement could result in a $4.5 million payment to the county to mitigate impacts of the proposed solar ranch, as well as a $2 million economic development loan to the county and 10 positions guaranteed to go to local residents.
In a press release, the three agencies said the public is urged to closely follow the actions of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and Planning Department in the weeks and months ahead.
“We are not done with this fight,” Roper emphasized. “Check the board agendas every Thursday night or Friday because there are going to be items that slip in under our radar. There are several supervisors who seem determined to continue on with the SOVSR and the Owens Valley REDA, no matter if it isn’t pictured on the ‘Less Less Intensive’ map. Also, keep an eye on anything that has to do with electrical transmission. That is really the key as to what extent Inyo County can be industrialized.”
Bacock agreed. “It is important to note that the activities conducted on April 1 showed that county staff and the Board of Supervisors are listening and responding to the concerns of the public, but this is not the end of the discussion,” Bacock warned. “Inyo County is still in preliminary evaluations of the REGPA and no decision has been made to actually choose any of the alternatives which have been presented. The ‘Less, Less Intensive’ alternative is a good step forward, but there are still questions which remain.
“The movement to save Inyo County from industrial renewable energy projects should not end because of the newly proposed alternative in the REGPA,” Bacock added. “We are in a marathon, not a sprint.”
While some are focusing their attention on the solar ranch and uncertain future of the Owens Valley REDA, several other residents are focusing on what they feel is a crucial design flaw in state policy that is promoting the need for large, industrial-scale solar developments.
At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting Tom Budlong pointed out that dispersed, roof-top solar installations do not count towards the state’s goal of producing 33 percent of its power needs through renewable sources by 2020.
According to Budlong, lobbyists in Sacramento have removed distributed rooftop solar from the equation on that mandate, and he and several other speakers urged the Board of Supervisors to appeal to Sacramento to have that changed, explaining that dispersed solar development is the preferred method of reaching state goals locally.
Residents and businesses who opt for small-scale roof-top solar have the ability to generate their electricity needs and, if they are producing more than they use, can sell energy back to the utility companies.
A study by the University of California, Los Angeles Leskin Center suggests that most, if not all, of California’s energy needs can be met through rooftop solar developments.

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