The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has released for public review a Draft Environmental Impact Report in which it presents its proposal to construct a 1,200-acre solar ranch south of Independence and east of Manzanar National Historic Site.
Prepared with the assistance of Anaheim-based POWER Engineers, Inc., the three-volume document details not just the project itself but also its potential impacts, ultimately concluding that LADWP’s proposal “would not result in significant unavoidable adverse impacts.”
Where applicable, the Draft EIR notes what types of mitigation measures will be taken to address other impacts in areas ranging from aesthetics and air quality to biological, cultural, geological and mineral resources to water quality, housing, recreation and public services.
The public has 45 days, until 5 p.m. on Oct. 18, to weigh in with comments on the document. Two public hearings will also be held later this month. After that, the LADWP begins its own review in anticipation of the preparation of a Final EIR.
The current project focuses on a new site not mentioned in LADWP’s originally announced plans to build a solar ranch at one of two locations near Lone Pine – a fact first acknowledged in the Draft EIR in a single, three-sentence paragraph under a section titled “Changes to Proposed Project Since Release of the NOP.”
LADWP first announced its project back in 2010 as a renewable energy production endeavor meant to satisfy state law and meet the utility’s own objectives for transitioning to “greener” energy. The goal, according to the Draft EIR, is for 33 percent of all of LADWP’s retail sales to be generated from renewable energy resources by the end of 2020.
The city identified for its solar ranch one site northeast of Lone Pine and west of the old railroad freight station at Owenyo, and another site south of Lone Pine and immediately northwest of the Owens Lake. Per the California Environmental Quality Act, an official Notice of Preparation – or NOP – was filed on Oct. 1, 2010 indicating the utility would be preparing an environmental analysis for its project with these sites as the two alternatives being considered.
During a subsequent 45-day public review of the NOP, more than 50 residents, groups and agencies submitted both letters and comments for the record, in support of and opposition to the proposed solar ranch. In the County of Inyo’s case, it didn’t so much take a side as point out various concerns it had with the project.
The Draft EIR explains in later sections that “a number of potential environmental issues” were identified with both the “Northern Alternative” and “Southern Alternative” during the NOP review process. “More detailed environmental investigation” substantiated some of these claims, the Draft EIR states, and as a result, LADWP eliminated the Southern Alternative – the site nearest the Owens Lake – from its proposal, chose a different preferred site altogether and kept the Northern Alternative as, well, an alternative.
L.A. officials had said at an Oct. 28, 2010 public meeting that other options were not out of the question, but at what point the currently favored site was identified and eventually chosen is unknown.
Independence resident and solar energy advocate Jim Stroh did write a letter to LADWP on Nov. 9, 2010 in which he told the utility that, should it need a third site option for its solar ranch, a piece of land located south of Independence and west of Manzanar would be ideal. He also noted in his letter that the business community is more friendly toward development in the Independence area.
The Draft EIR states only, in the section titled “2.4.2 Issues Raised During the NOP Process,” that “LADWP has incorporated a number of changes to the project site, layout and operation, some of which were suggested by the commenters, and has also considered NOP comments regarding the scope of issues to be evaluated.”
WHAT THEY’RE PLANNING NOW
The site pointed out by Stroh and preferred by LADWP is about six miles southeast of Independence, 10 miles north of Lone Pine, four miles east of U.S. 395 with Manzanar Reward Road running along the southern perimeter and Mazourka Canyon Road three miles to the north. Essentially, right across the highway from Manzanar. It is also adjacent to LADWP’s current transmission lines – one of the features making it appealing to the utility.
It’s here that LADWP wants to ground-mount 1-2 million crystalline solar photovoltaic panels to a steel or aluminum framework in 50 megawatt blocks for a total of 200 MW of power. The energy would be diverted directly to LADWP’s existing Inyo-Rinaldi transmission line.
A 600-foot-long by 500-foot-wide substation would be built on seven acres – which will be cleared of vegetation and graded. A 3,000 square-foot, single-story steel maintenance building will also be constructed and placed somewhere near the substation. Both buildings will include perimeter fencing.
Manzanar Reward Road will be paved by LADWP prior to construction so that it can be used as a main access road. Other access roads will be built – 24 feet wide and covered with aggregate – throughout the project site. Smaller, 12-foot-wide roads will be built to allow access to the solar panels.
Construction is expected to take place over five-and-a-half years from mid-2014 to late 2019, starting with the substation and moving on to the solar arrays in mid-2016. LADWP proposes to have the first 50 MW block up and running by the end of 2016.
The result of the project, once fully operational, would be 440 gigawatt hours of clean, renewable energy annually for the City of L.A. According to the Draft EIR, that’s enough energy to power about 75,000 households in L.A. and meet state renewable energy mandates.
At its peak, in late 2015, the project would require 350 workers on site, a figure that will be scaled down to a steady 220 workers during the final year of construction.
Copies of the Draft EIR are available at all public libraries and online at www.ladwp.com/envnotices .
Comments may be submitted via email to Nadia.Parker@ladwp.com  or via regular mail to Nadia Parker, Environmental Planning and Assessment, LADWP, 111 North Hope Street, Room 1044, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
For more on the project and the Draft EIR, including the County of Inyo’s involvement; why LADWP prefers the Independence site; impacts described in the Draft EIR and proposed mitigation measures; and potential alternatives, see upcoming issues of The Inyo Register.