Local leaders met Tuesday to discuss transmission corridor planning in Inyo County that could impact renewable energy development in the Owens Valley and other parts of Inyo.
Over the years, the Owens Valley has been targeted for a number of transmission corridors that would transmit solar and wind energy from areas as far north as Oregon and Washington, to reaches as far south as Los Angeles.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio said the discussion about potential transmission corridor planning is relevant, as recent public meetings about the county’s Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment and the controversial Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch raised many concerns among residents regarding current transmission capabilities, and future plans for the Eastern Sierra.
According to Inyo County Planning Director Josh Hart gave the board a rundown of some of the transmission planning efforts that are currently underway and could impact the Eastern Sierra.
Those planning efforts have included the West-Wide Energy Corridor, which, if approved, would run through the Owens Valley.
Hart explained that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed secretaries of agriculture, commerce, defense, energy and the interior to designates energy corridors in 11 Western states, including California and Nevada.
A programmatic environmental impact statement was prepared, and corresponding records of decision were adopted in 2009.
However, “multiple organizations filed a complaint raising a variety of challenges to the Record of Decision,” a staff report from the Planning Department states. A settlement was reached, requiring federal agencies to complete a corridor study.
According to Hart, federal agencies recently released a request for information to assist in development of a corridor study and provide for an initial review of the proposal. Those comments are due by May 27.
Hart said that he is planning to schedule a workshop with the board at a later date to discuss that transmission corridor.
He also said that the state of Nevada has an eye on Inyo County and is planning transmission from Central Nevada to Southern California, traveling through Inyo County.
Hart said that Inyo County has sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management, requesting to be a coordinating party in any developments on those plans.
At the state level, Hart said the California Energy Commission has been evaluating potential transmission upgrades in Inyo County through the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. “These efforts have resulted in discussions about potentially upgrading transmission through western Inyo County, as well as upgrades south of the county that might provide for renewable energy development in southern Inyo County,” Hart’s staff report states.
Fourth District Supervisor Mark Tillemans encouraged Hart and the rest of the planning staff to request that Inyo be involved in the planning efforts so Inyo can help guide its own future. “Let them know what we’ve been through in the late couple of months” regarding renewable energy development, Tillemans said.
Inyo resident Earl Wilson pointed out that transmission corridors will mean aesthetic impacts. “If it’s on the west side of the highway, it would completely destroy our view of the Sierras,” he said.
Sally Miller of the Wilderness Society said she would encourage the county to work with the BLM to guide future planning. “It’s a marathon, not a spring,” Miller said, explaining that the county will have to stick with planning efforts to have any impact on the results.
John Rothgeb, another resident, said that the energy industry is moving away from long transmission corridors, in favor of point-of-use projects that have local power plants energizing nearby communities. “There’s going to be less and less need for long-distance transmission,” he said.
Carunchio said that this is a first step for the county, and it’s getting ahead of the ball on these planning processes. “This is very much front-end stuff,” Carunchio said, explaining that the county should have plenty of time to work with state and federal agencies on a plan that works for local communities.