Letter to the editor: REGPA alternative not good

View of possible before and after SOVSR. Westward view from Inyo Mountains.  Photo by Bill Helmer

View of possible before and after SOVSR. Westward view from Inyo Mountains. Photo by Bill Helmer

Save the valley…from the Planning Department by Daniel Pritchett

Last winter the Inyo County Planning Department (ICPD) released a draft Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) which triggered an unprecedented outpouring of public opposition to siting industrial-scale solar facilities in Inyo County, and Owens Valley in particular.  Last spring the Board of Supervisors directed ICPD to address public concerns, and ICPD has now produced a draft programmatic EIR for the proposed REGPA.   

It appears ICPD learned little from all those meetings and public comments. I write this because ICPD’s preferred alternative will lead to “significant and unavoidable impacts,” and, by ICPD’s own admission, its preferred alternative is the least environmentally sound of all those considered.  Does ICPD really think this is what the public wants?

An important problem with last spring’s draft REGPA was the conflicts it created with existing land management plans.  Existing plans require non-urban DWP land to be managed for sustainable uses such as agriculture and grazing, as well as providing habitat for threatened species.  They preclude industrial development.  The conflicts between last spring’s REGPA and existing management plans were noted repeatedly in public comments.  The new draft REGPA EIR creates the same conflicts as last spring’s draft by proposing a Solar Energy Development Area (SEDA) on DWP land at Laws.  It’s as though all those meetings and comment letters never happened.

Existing DWP land management plans are a hard won mitigation measure specified in the 1997 MOU to the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement.  Inyo County is a party to this MOU yet ICPD seems to think compliance is optional.  We’re accustomed to DWP signing agreements and then breaking them but we shouldn’t tolerate this behavior from Inyo County.  If the county wants to industrialize open space at Laws, it should re-negotiate the MOU and obtain other mitigation before modifying the General Plan

In addition to opening inappropriate land for industrial development, the new REGPA EIR fails to close land (i.e. Owens Valley) the public overwhelmingly insisted should be closed.  Last spring’s proposed “Owens Valley REDA,” which inspired so much opposition, has been greatly enlarged in the new REGPA EIR and renamed the “Owens Valley study area.”  This opens the door for the next planning initiative (scheduled for 2015) to propose even more industrialization in Owens Valley than was proposed last spring.  County supervisors and ICPD are supposed to work for the public; in this case they are doing the opposite.

There are other problems with this new REGPA EIR which bias it toward industrial-scale solar even while ICPD claims to be trying to protect the county from inappropriate development.  I hope everyone reading this letter will tell ICPD the comment period must be extended at least through the end of January. Then, read the EIR (as much as you can tolerate) and submit a comment.  If we all make our voices heard we may still be able to save the valley… from the Planning Department.

Daniel Pritchett

Bishop, CA


6 Responses to Letter to the editor: REGPA alternative not good

  1. Ken Warner November 26, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Can you define: “industrial-scale solar facilities”?

    Where exactly are these planned facilities located?

    • Philip Anaya November 28, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

      There is no glossary, no definitions in the Draft REGPA documents. There is a lot of terminology being thrown around with little collective understanding kinda like Winston Churchill’s famous quote “England and America ,two countries divided by a common language.” Great question KW

      There are three category’s of renewable energy generation:

      1. Distributed Generation : Just like it says. In this category of “distributed” energy generation many homes and businesses all have their own PV arrays . The power generated is utilized on site with any excess energy generated is fed back into the
      grid (grid tied)

      2. Community Scale Generation : In this category also known as Feed-in Tariff Generation . The energy generated is not used on site but is to be used for local community needs. The CEC has established a limit of 20 mega watts for these projects while DWP for the Owens Valley has the limit of 4 mega watts. The recently approved Munro Solar Project 4 mega watts has filled that DWP limit. It will cover 30 acres along highway 395 just south of Olancha. A 20 mega watt project will cover 150 acres out of scale to a PV array on a roof or on a parking structure. Projects 20 mega watts and larger are referred to as Utiliity Scale

      3. Industrial (Utility) Scale Generation: These are projects greater than 20 mega watts. The scale of the projects are 150 acres up to square miles of PV panels . The Beacon Solar Project I(250 mega watts) currently in the initial stages of construction in Cantil (along highway 14 below Jawbone Canyon) will occupy about 1875 acres or 2.92 square miles The energy generated is connected (interconnected ) to Transmission lines for energy consumption in distant urban needs

      Truth be told Folks should not need to rely on “Blog Definitions” in this REGPA Process. Why is there no clear common understanding of the scope and scale of the proposed Development Standards for the empty areas of Inyo County. Standards have components and definitions.
      Even more important , where has the initiative to Industrialize areas of Inyo County come from? Why is there not an alternative offered that has a different list of Objectives that are in keeping and preservation of the millions of years of evolution of the earth here in Inyo County. Why is there now a need to mess with the existing General Plan land use designations. Hold on to what is prized most dearly to you because if there is a quick buck, a quick fiscal fix to be had, someone is going to be putting the bum rush on us all. Talk about scam artistry . I just didn’t think that this Inyo Board of Supervisors would ever get rolled out like this . The Munro approval might not in itself be such a terrible decision but the 20 mw Solar Overlay General Plan Amendment is a bummer, a real demonstration of the inability of the Supes to not only hear what constituents have to say but it shows that there will be great challenges to have them ever enact protection and preservation of Inyo County, ” the land of contrasts formed by the diverse and abundant natural riches”………………….. and so on , these words from the “Introduction to the Inyo County General Plan”. Who and what is going to save the Inyo is the biggest question of this REGPA .

      • Ken Warner November 28, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

        Thanks for your studied reply.

  2. Desert Tortoise November 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    If the projects are on BLM land then the county and it’s planning commission have no veto of any proposed projects. The BLM and CEC have final say. At best the county can create a plan that is mutually acceptable and hope BLM and CEC agree. But as far as the ability to veto a project? No county has that authority on BLM or any other Federal land. Nor do they have the authority to veto anything on LADWP land because they are a charter city and under Article 11 of the California Constitution, the ordinances of a charter city supercede any conflicting local or state laws.

    • MajorTom November 28, 2014 at 10:39 am #


      You may be right about the use of federal land, although the Feds can be required to comply with local environmental laws on federal land. However, cities do not have anywhere near the power you assert. First, a city ordinance is effective in the citiy’s jurisdiction, which most definitely does not include Inyo County. Second, an ordinance does not override a state law that is intended to apply to cities. Cities do not have veto power over state legislation. LADWP has a lot of discretion over how it uses its land, but LA is not the all powerful.

      • Desert Tortoise November 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

        Major Tom, please read Article 11 of the California Constitution. Charter cities in California have extraordinary powers compared to General Law cities and their ordinances do indeed supersede any other conflicting state, county or other local laws within the boundaries of the charter city and any land a charter city owns outside it’s city limits. The only tie the California courts have forced a charter city to comply with laws that conflict with it’s municipal ordinances are rare instances where there is a “state wide interest”, to use the term the courts have used. General Law cities, which is what the great majority in California are, are more restricted. Because LA is a Charter City they are not required to comply with Mono or Inyo county planning or zoning laws. Only the courts can force LA to comply with local regulations. Same with BLM on Federal lands. They can choose to have a cooperative relationship with the surrounding counties but if you read the laws that are driving the implementation of renewable energy in this state, the laws were written specifically to prohibit local governments from putting up road blocks to the urgent installation of renewable energy infrastructure. The legislators who wrote the legislation knew some areas would try to prevent the construction of solar and wind power facilities and water banking schemes and made it essentially impossible for counties and local governments from vetoing these projects. That is why BLM and CEC have final say on all such projects.


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