According to a Gallup Poll released in March of 2013, “No fewer than two in three Americans want the U.S. to put more emphasis on producing domestic energy using solar power (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%).”
Despite solar power’s popularity with the general public nationally, the idea of allowing solar energy production in Inyo County doesn’t appear to be very popular with many Inyo County residents. The public comments provided at the Inyo County Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday showed overwhelming opposition to the draft General Plan Amendment on Renewable Energy.
With more than 70 members of the public attending the three-plus hour meeting, all but one of the 32 speakers who chose to address the commission strongly and passionately opposed the Inyo County Planning Department’s request for approval to send the draft amendment to the County Board of Supervisors.
Nevertheless, in a 4-1 vote, the commissioners bucked public sentiment and approved sending the amendment to the Board of Supervisors. Commissioner, Bill Stoll, voted “No” and stated that he felt the commissioners, along with the Board of Supervisors, should host a series of workshops on solar energy first to have a greater understanding of the subject.
During the meeting, all the commissioners at some point acknowledged that they did not have much knowledge on the subject of renewable energy and the alternatives that might realistically be considered.
The draft amendment to the General Plan does not so much support renewable energy as attempt to designate areas that have “potential” for it. For those at the meeting, there was mostly opposition to any large industrial solar projects and wind development anywhere in Inyo County, although a few suggested alternatives such as Paul Fretheim of Independence who shared a presentation demonstrating how solar photovoltaic panels and sheets can be installed on rooftops of many commercial buildings and even as a covering over the aqueduct with solar panels rather that in large, industrialized areas.
Any plans on any project will still require environmental impact studies, including the proposed LADWP solar project near the Manazanar Historic Site – an EIS will be required regardless of any action taken on this proposed amendment.
Public comment included an allegation that the Planning Department had written a misleading report that ignored how people attending the workshops on the plan were misrepresented.
Eva Poole-Gilson of Keough’s Hot Springs, a local educator and writer, read a short passage from a book that she wrote 26 years ago as a young woman new to the area describing what a marvelous change the scenic views and rural living was from the hustle and bustle of city life. She encouraged commissioners to not let the beauty and “specialness” of the area be despoiled by allowing large projects that would mar the viewshed. She strongly advocated a series of informative renewable energy workshops for the public and public officials take place before a decision is made on the draft amendment. This was a recurrent theme that many in attendance suggested, including several commissioners.
Bryan Kostors of Independence noted that the numbers of people who attended workshops leading up to the draft amendment were overwhelmingly opposed to large scale industrial projects, yet the wording in the plan appeared to indicate that the public supports them, which he felt was not true. This was repeated several times with other speakers, that there is no clear support for the energy projects by Inyo residents.
Several spoke up on the wildlife and plant life. Cindy Kamler founder and director for Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care said that she would like to speak for the animals, saying that “Displaced wildlife risk predation resulting in death and even possible extinction.”
A half-dozen Japanese-Americans from southern California spoke in opposition to the plan as contrary to the establishment of the Manzanar Historic Site’s purpose to honor those sent there, educate the public on the dangers of intolerance, and give visitors a sense of what it was like to be kept in an isolated area. Later Colin Smith, the acting-director of Manzanar, seconded their views and added other concerns the National Park Service has in other areas of Inyo County.
April Zrelak objected to the “artificial deadline” established by the Planning Department. Noting that the 358 page plan document was released just a few days ago, she asked that workshops be provided to give the public a change to further understand the details. In response, Planning Director Josh Hart said that would happen during the environmental review process.
Saying that “areas designated for potential projects would impact the entire Lower Owens River Project,” Mike Prather said, “LORP was designed to bring back river habitat and the map included in the plan as ‘suitable for solar for industrial development’ runs counter to that goal.
“The real issue is the City of Los Angeles,” he added, as it was LADWP that proposed the solar project south of Independence and across from Manzanar. In a comment that drew bemusement, Prather said that the Director of the Planning Department should be held financially responsible for any results of the plan.
Jim Stroh of Independence was the sole speaker advocating that the county go full-speed ahead on the solar energy project saying, “I urge the Planning Commission to move forward and get this plan to the Board of Supervisors.” In spite of his view being different from others, he received polite applause.
The politeness shown to Stroh would not be evidenced as the commissioners moved to take the vote at the end of three hours of testimony. Angry shouts and jeers erupted from the audience during and after the vote was taken and the draft plan was tentatively voted to go forward to the Board of Supervisors on March 18.
For those not able to attend the meeting, comments and letters from the public have been posted on the Inyo County Planning Department site at www.inyoplanning.org. It is not too late to send in comments. Comments can be sent for inclusion through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (760) 878-0263.