The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) gave the Inyo County Board of Supervisors an overview of its Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) policy under which it is proposing the controversial Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch (SOVSR).
LADWP Assistant Planning Director of Power System Planning and Development Michael Webster explained that the IRP is dependent on drawing energy resources from broad and diverse geographic areas to maintain reliability and respond to the State’s 33 percent Renewable Energy requirement.
The DWP is looking to an array of solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biogas energy, with the hope that it can eliminate coal completely from the DWP’s power supply.
Webster was accompanied to the meeting by engineer Yamen Nanne, the SOVSR project manager.
“I feel a little left alone by your department,” said Supervisor Matt Kingsley to both men. “We’ve gotten a lot of input here that you should be engaged in. I don’t know how committed you are to the project and some engagement would help me.”
Webster explained that the DWP provides water and power to four million residents of the City of Los Angeles, including 5,000 in the Owens Valley. Many of these customers are happy with the rates they pay to DWP when compared to others that have more expensive rates from Southern California Edison.
“It is important for the department to move solar and other renewable energy plants at least 200 miles apart to maintain reliability and consistency,” said Webster. The need to do so eliminates many projects that rely on the same renewable energy source, such as wind or solar. Webster explained that there can be a significant change from one day to another even with geographic diversity, so the DWP needs the flexibility to bring power from another geographically distant solar or wind energy location to make up for any drop or loss of energy from those locations affected by cloud cover or lack of wind.
Specifically addressing the DWP’s plans in the Owens Valley, Webster noted that they are building a 500 kW solar demonstration project on five acres on Owens Lake that is scheduled to begin construction in July.
The DWP is looking to see how it might be able to use solar potential to mitigate dust on the lakebed while also saving water. While wind-tunnel tests have shown low-disturbance panels can be effective 95 percent of time, it must be tested in the field.
The demonstration project will test various technologies, from solar foundations and wind effect on panels to resistance to corrosion.
As to why the DWP is still looking at the SOVSR project near the Manzanar Relocation Center south of Independence despite vocal opposition, Webster emphasized that he and Nanne are planners and not decision-makers. He said that whether or not the project goes forward or not has not been settled, and that it will ultimately depend on what the LADWP Board of Commissioners, City Council, and the new Mayor decide over the next six months.
According to Webster, factors that favor the SOVSR project are existing roads to and around the project site, that the project design team made all efforts to avoid any potential Cultural and Biological Impacts, and that the location sits on the existing Inyo-Rinaldi Transmission Corridor that runs through the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, which eliminates the need to build new transmission lines.
Although the DWP is looking at solar development on Owens Lake, hence the Owens Solar Demonstration project, it cannot be built by the State’s 2020 deadline, given the concern over soil, the time required for planning EIRs, and other approvals, including an agreement with the State Lands Commission, which owns the lakebed.
Asked by Supervisor Jeff Griffiths if the project might be derailed given the opposition, Webster replied, “The [LADWP] Board understands the benefits of the project as described in the project EIR, as well as the need for compliance in meeting the State’s mandated renewable energy goals by 2020. It is something they will have to wrestle with.”
Griffiths also questioned the compensation in the proposed MOU with Inyo County. “I don’t really like it … but there is no real benefit to the community given that, if another energy source or plant other than solar were developed, the County would realize significant tax revenue benefits for local schools, businesses, and County services,” he said.
Webster pointed out that the $4.6 million offered by the DWP in the MOU was based on “project-related costs” and that anything above that amount is prohibited by the City Charter as “a gift of public funds.”
As expected, the public comment that followed the LADWP presentation was overwhelmingly in opposition. The first public comment speaker was quite aggressive and had to be reminded by Board Chair Rick Pucci to direct his comments to the Board and not the visitors from DWP.
Most likely to the relief of the Board, those speakers that followed did not display the level of hostility and incivility towards the LADWP and the Board that was shown by the first speaker.
The DWP did discuss other issues, such as the Feed in Tariff (FIT) Program, which compensates solar rooftop customers for extra power not used in their home or businesses. The DWP promises to expand FiT, as well as work with local schools in a renewable energy job training program and support efforts towards energy efficiency at Inyo School District schools and other local businesses and residents served by the DWP.
While the presentation to the Board left many questions unanswered, many of those in attendance, including the County Supervisors, felt that it was important to have lines of communication kept open between the LADWP and the County until the controversy is resolved. At this point it appears that it could go either way: SOVSR will built … or not.