Inyo County Supervisors approved a resolution to accept the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) report prepared for the 4-megawatt alternating current solar photovoltaic generating facility project in Olancha known as the Munro Valley Solar project. It was approved despite some concerns from local residents over what they deemed its negative visual impact.
General Counsel Terrie Robinson with the State Native American Heritage Commission threatened a possible lawsuit over the project’s CEQA tribal cultural resources requirements.
CEQA requires parties to consult in good faith until parties agree to measures to mitigate or avoid a significant effect on a tribal cultural resource (if such a significant effect exists), or until a party concludes that mutual agreement cannot be reached.
Robinson threatened legal action because she felt the Board’s approval of the CEQA requirements was premature, and that the process used for Native-American cultural and historic resources did not meet the legal requirements of CEQA. However, the Board, following the advice of the County Counsel, chose to disagree with Robinson’s assertions and moved to advance the project, noting that the requirement for cultural and historic resources survey had to be done before the project can be built. The County contended that such consultation has taken place and will continue to take place. The Big Pine Tribe, which has been consulting with the Inyo County Planning Department on Native-American cultural resource, also expressed the desire that approval of the resolution be held off pending further, extensive examination of the land.
Several residents of Olancha expressed their disapproval of the project. Most mirrored the same complaints and concerns aired at the Planning Commission meeting held in late September. They claimed that those affected were not informed about the project; that it would have negative visual impacts; and that County planning staff did not listen to their concerns.
Some residents simply do not want a solar project in their community at all. Several contended that they had no objection to the project, but that it should be located as far to the east as possible and not sited next to Hwy 395.
However, procedures created for solar projects by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power do not allow for changes to be made in location once a project has been approved, and an attempt to do so would invalidate the company’s application.
The Owens Valley Committee wanted the language in the General Plan Amendment to reflect greater specificity to this project and exclude others from using it to justify future projects. However, the Supervisors agreed with the Planning Department that any new projects would still be required to go through the same process as Munro Valley Solar, LLC, and there was no need to be more specific in the General Plan.
The Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, submitted a letter urging approval of the project, stating “that the site has little conservation value” and noting that “Small-scale projects such as Munro Solar are important in contributing to meeting California’s (and in this case, Los Angeles’s) renewable energy needs, and help take pressure off of siting larger projects on undisturbed public lands.”
Fifth District County Supervisor Matt Kingsley asked that, if possible, the company set back the solar panels from the highway, and lower the height of the panels to further reduce the visual impact. Ecos Energy representative Chris Little agreed that they would look into it. Kingsley also expressed frustration that some of those opposed to the project were some of the very people that supported the County’s earlier changes on small-scale, distributive solar power projects, which the Munro Valley project met.
The final vote on the resolution on General Plan Amendment #2013-01/Munro Valley Solar, LLC, was one of unanimous approval.