Inyo residents had an opportunity to respond to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Solar Ranch proposal at Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Representatives of the LADWP met with the Board of Supervisors to discuss the necessity for an industrial-scale solar facility in the Owens Valley and local residents responded, saying simply and clearly that the project is not wanted.
At the meeting, Assistant Director of Power System Planning and Development Michael Webster and Yamen Nanne, an engineer on the solar project, explained that the department is required to produce one-third of its power through renewable sources by 2020 and effective solar power generation needs dispersed facilities to ensure cloudy days don’t impact the whole system at once. He also said that large-scale facilities are preferable to dispersed rooftop facilities because the LADWP must regulate how much power is being pumped into the system to prevent an overload.
Webster said the LADWP is hoping to expand its feed-in tariff program, which allows private citizens to build solar panels on their property, and sell any excess energy they generate back to the utility. However, Webster also said that the LADWP is close to reaching its capacity for dispersed solar, which is another reason the industrial-scale solar ranch is on the drawing board.
Webster also said that the LADWP is working on a pilot solar project on Owens Lake to see if the lake soil can carry photovoltaic panels. However, that project can’t replace the proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch facility, due to a strict 2020 deadline for renewable energy development.
One benefit the county will see, Webster said, is the creation of 10 new jobs for residents at the solar ranch.
Despite the LADWP’s assertion that the solar ranch is necessary for it to reach its state-mandated energy goals, Inyo residents made their position clear: Inyo County is not a suitable place for large, industrial-scale solar development.
Jane McDonald went on record opposing the solar facility, saying it “represents a fundamental change” in LADWP’s management of its Owens Valley landholdings. McDonald explained that the trade-off for LADWP’s water export has been a promise of no development on Inyo’s wild spaces. “This is a crossing of the line in the sand that is uniting the residents of the valley. “We do believe in economic development, but this is not the kind of development we want. You’re talking about 10 jobs, but there are thousands of jobs that depend on tourism.”
Mary Baker simply pointed out that the proposed facility “will impede the beauty of the valley” and impact the tourist industry residents depend on.
Ilene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out recent research has revealed that large solar facilities are a hazard to birds, which have both collided with panels, mistakenly believing solar fields to be lakes or ponds, and have even died due to heat produced by the panels.
Anderson also pointed out that the Owens Valley is a bird migration corridor.
“I shudder to think of all the birds who will lose their lives,” another resident said.
Andy Selters also pointed out that there is a prevailing “fear in Inyo that this can be the first of many proposals.” Selters also said that solar development is being advertised as a renewable energy source, “but the land is not renewable.” Tom Budlong agreed, pointing out that the LADWP has no obligation to restore the land the solar facility is built on once the project is decommissioned.
Darwin resident John Rothgeb said that LADWP is behind the times with its solar ranch proposal. “The solar industry is in a transitional period,” moving away from large-scale developments in favor of “point-of-use” projects that don’t require long-distance transmission. “I can’t believe people in L.A. will pay to transport energy from the valley to L.A.,” Rothgeb said.
April Zrelak, of the Lone Pine Tribal Environmental Department, said that a new flex-mat product is in the works that could be laid out on Owens Lake to mitigate the trouble the LADWP is having with lake soil. “The panels could be put on the mat, and that would reduce dust,” she said.
Nancy Masters, speaking on behalf of the Owens Valley Committee, said the organization is opposed to the solar ranch and any other large-scale solar proposal. Masters said she would like to see the county explore the idea of creating a land conservation easement for the valley that would protect sustainable uses and prohibit development.