The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s presentation to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors at its April 15 meeting was, for strong opponents of its plan to build a solar ranch in southern Inyo County, another opportunity to prevent the department from further sucking the bone marrow from the already bleached bones of the Owens Valley?or so it seems in the minds of some.
After the presentation by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Assistant Planning Director of Power Systems and Development Michael Webster on the City’s Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) and how the proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch ties into it, fifteen members of public spoke to the Board of Supervisors, all of whom were still against the plan. Despite repeated requests from the Board of Supervisors, many speakers found themselves looking back over their shoulder and directing their comments to Webster, sitting behind them in the first row.
The first speaker, Ben Holgate, said he was “still disappointed at continued efforts of a sales job,” and went on to compare LADWP history in the Owens Valley to the history of the French in Algeria (one of conquest, colonization, and exploitation) which he said cynically, was “reflected in the desperation in current effort at extraction they are calling a ‘ranch’ that doesn’t grow anything” and warned that the department not go down the path of more resource extraction. Despite repeated requests to direct his comments directly to the board and to respect the time constraints, Holgate did not stop until he was done.
Following Holgate was Jane McDonald. She told the board that she was against the SOVSR and all industrial scale development. She noted that “You (LADWP) talk about ten jobs… and we are talking about thousands of jobs dependent on tourism” which she says their plan threatens. Stating that the Solar Ranch would fundamentally change the relationship between Los Angeles and Inyo County, she observed that there has always been a trade-off in which Los Angeles takes water and Inyo County got to keep its undeveloped open spaces. “The large scale solar project,” she went on to say, “was a betrayal of that relationship” and you are crossing a line in the sand.”
Tom Budlong of Pasadena, who owns a cabin in Lone Pine, questioned the draft EIR, which calls for no mitigation, and pointed out that it repeatedly stated there were “no significant impacts” on historical, environmental, and air quality, all of which he feels are simply wrong.
Ilene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity called the board’s attention to a recent report of a new 2014 report from the National Fish & Wildlife Lab on Avian Mortality at Solar Energy Facilities in Southern California: A Preliminary Analysis. She asked that it be included in their decision-making. Essentially the reports showed that some birds at the three solar plants studied often collide with solar panels or mistake solar fields for lakes or ponds. Others were literally burned or overcome by heat from the solar mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Generating Plant.
Ann Capadanno of Independence pointed out that there is an information kiosk just south of Lone Pine at Diaz Lake which depicts the variety of wildlife in Inyo County. She noted that the kiosks describes the area is a National Scenic Byway and that it a part of a major bird migration route, the National Pacific Flyway, further noting that there was a list of many agencies that contributed to kiosk and, much to her surprise, LADWP was among them.
Ilene Mandelbaum of Lee Vining pointed out that, “When LADWP realized they had to ‘protect the public trust’ of Mono Lake, they found other water through conservation and reclamation.” She encouraged them to do so again. She then went on to call for aggressive power conservation to reduce demand rather than look to large scale utility projects.
The fear that LADWP’s solar project might be the slippery slope towards many more was the concern expressed by mountaineering photographer Andy Selters, while Darwin resident John Rothgeb said, “LADWP was ‘behind the times.” And that “most of the solar industry is moving away from large-scale developments in favor of ‘point-of-use’ projects that do not require long distance power transmission.
Speaking on behalf of the Owens Valley Committee, Nancy Masters of Independence said that they were opposed to the SOVSR and any other large-scale solar proposals, raising the idea of the County creating conservation easements in the Owens Valley that would halt any development.
The staunch opposition to the SOVSR and any other plans for the Owens Valley will likely continue. The City of Los Angeles’s IRP calls for a diversified portfolio of green energy production that includes solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal spread over a broad geographic area so that one or more can be pulled from another area to make up for any loss that may occur from another.
The purpose behind the IRP strategy is to of which is to maintain stability and reliability, along with flexibility in the electricity supply to its customers in Los Angeles, while hopefully eliminating the use of coal-powered plants completely. The key sentence is “customers in Los Angeles”, whose interests often conflict, whether it is water or now solar energy, with those of the people and the economy of Inyo County which often enjoy little, if any benefit.