Thanks to the input of dozens of residents – and even some visitors – Inyo County is ready to complete a policy on renewable energy development.
County leaders approved a new, updated Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment this week, and directed county Planning staff to move forward with a Notice of Preparation for an Environmental Impact Report on the amendment.
As approved, the REGPA prohibits wind energy development projects and significantly limits the acreage available for large-scale solar power developments.
While the REGPA holds very little authority over state, federal and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lands, it is hoped these agencies will take the county’s renewable energy development policies into account when siting industrial-scale projects. Thus, the plan approved Tuesday is being seen as a huge improvement over the draft plan released in 2013 that identified 14 different areas of the county – including undeveloped lands – as suitable for large-scale wind and solar development.
The plan approved Tuesday was a follow-up to a proposal introduced April 1, when the Board of Supervisors met to discuss the REGPA and hear what residents liked and didn’t like about the proposal, which is designed to guide future renewable energy development throughout the county.
During that meeting, county staff unveiled a less-intensive alternative for the REGPA that included a number of changes to the wildly unpopular draft REGPA that inspired widespread protest and criticism. Among those “less-intensive” changes were the elimination of a Renewable Energy Development area (an area cited as suitable for development) in the Owens Valley, and caps to help ensure that solar development doesn’t completely take over the county’s wild spaces.
Following a presentation on the less intensive REGPA alternative, dozens of residents weighed in. Most said they were happy with the direction the county was going with the unpopular proposal, but felt there was still some room for improvement.
The supervisors directed staff on April 1 to weigh those comments, and return this week with an updated less-intensive alternative that can be amended through the environmental review process.
The new less-intensive REGPA proposal includes a 25 megawatt cap on any solar energy development in the Owens Valley, including REDAs in Laws, Owens Lake, Rose Valley and Pearsonville.
Senior Planner Cathreen Richards said that the Planning Department is currently working with a resident in Chicago Valley who is interested in renewable energy development. Once staff has an idea of what that property owner hopes to do with his land, the county will tailor a REDA to suit his needs and, hopefully, appease community members who have been instrumental in guiding the less-intensive proposal.
At the April 1 meeting, Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley asked that Planning staff explain how many megawatts can be produced on an acre of land, and provide in the document how many acres can be developed in each REDA before the cap is reached.
Richards said that information has been included in the updated less-intensive alternative.
Ultimately, a total of 120 acres will be needed to meet the 20 megawatt cap in the Laws REDA; 900 acres will be needed to meet the 150 megawatt cap on Owens Lake; 600 acres each for the Rose Valley, Pearsonville, Trona and Sandy Valley REDA caps of 100 megawatts each; and 2,400 acres for the 400 megawatt cap in Charleston View.
Richards explained that if a developer constructs a 150 megawatt facility on Owens Lake, and another develops a 100 megawatt facility in Pearsonville, the 250 megawatt cap on the entire Owens Valley will be used, and the county would begin prohibiting future large-scale solar facilities.
Acting on requests from residents, at the April 1 meeting, First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius requested that wind energy development be removed from the REGPA. Richards said that has been done.
Richards also said that citizen requests to have the General Plan amendment guide development towards already disturbed areas, such as county landfills and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, have been included.
At this week’s meeting, nearly a dozen residents addressed the board, thanking local leaders for implementing public input in the new less-extensive proposal.
“It’s been a rough ride,” Bishop Paiute Tribe and Owens Valley Committee member Harry Williams said. “People really care about this valley. Any change is a cause of concern for me. I’m glad you guys listened to the public.”
Daniel Pritchett of the Owens Valley Committee said he is still concerned that the amendment’s REDAs are in conflict with the Long-Term Water Agreement, which requires that LADWP land is managed for “sustainable uses.”
Independence resident Nina Weisman said she liked the new proposal, but has some issues with wording used in the document. She said that rather than requiring developers to “mitigate” impacts, the document should direct them to “avoid” impacts.
Ultimately, the board approved planning staff’s changes to the less-intensive REGPA, and directed staff to move forward.
Richards said the next step will be to issue a Notice of Preparation of environmental documents. Richards said the environmental process will include several meetings and opportunities for revisions before a final Environmental Impact Report is brought before the board later this fall or in early 2015.
The Owens Valley Committee, one of the most vocal groups opposed to the initial draft REGPA, issued a press release Wednesday praising the board’s decision, but also urging vigilance as the process moves forward.
According to the OVC, Inyo County residents will remain vigilant to “ensure that renewables development proceeds as small-scale and rooftop, distributed energy in the built environment, rather than large-scale, industrial development in open spaces.
Williams added, “We appreciate the board’s responsiveness, and will continue to remain active to avoid any impact on our cultural resources and open space.”