Public passion against DWP’s solar ranch

When Los Angeles Department of Water and Power official, MichaelWebster, travelled to Independence to explain the City’s Solar Ranch project, he heard some angry and some frank comments against LADWP’s plans. The LA Times quoted Supervisor Jeff Griffiths as saying that the skills of the opposition are “unprecedented” and may be a rebirth of “historic empowerment in terms of the County’s relationship with the City of Los Angeles.”

Ben Holgate

Ben Holgate

For several weeks, citizens have packed the Board room with overflow in the lobby. The same was true on Tuesday when citizens passionately made their points. Ben Holgate of Independence stood up first and with a loud and angry voice said he was “disappointed in the sales job” he felt Webster had given the people. He criticized DWP for euphemistically calling their mega-solar project a “Ranch” and warned Webster not to go down the path of more resource extraction. Holgate firmly kept speaking even after the timer bell rang. Supervisor Chair Rick Pucci tried to stop him. He left only when he was done.

Jane McDonald told Webster she hoped he understood that the Solar Ranch would fundamentally change the relationship between LA and Inyo. She said we’ve had a trade-off. LA takes the water and Inyo gets undeveloped open spaces. McDonald said the large-scale solar project is a “betrayal of that relationship. You’re crossing a line in the sand,” she said. “All of us are standing together against this project.” She compared the paltry ten jobs DWP has offered to “thousands of jobs in the tourist industry.” McDonald raised curiosity when she said “people are meeting with powerful officials in LA.”

Tom Budlong from southern California said he remains suspicious that environmental documents do not spell out restoration of the solar site when it’s done and lacks mitigation plans for air quality and other impacts.

Citizens tended to direct their comments to Mr. Webster who was sitting in the audience behind them even though County Counsel Marge Kemp-Williams asked

Jane McDonald

Jane McDonald

them to speak to the Board of Supervisors.

Eileen Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity pointed to a new study on bird mortality and solar sites. Ann Capadanno of Independence pointed to the Scenic By-Way designation and the major bird migration path. She said, “I shutter to think of the damage.” Ilene Mandelbaum of Lee Vining said when LADWP realized they had to protect the public trust of Mono Lake, they found other water through conservation and reclamation. She called for aggressive power conservation to reduce demand.

Andy Selters pointed to the fear that DWP’s solar project would only be the first of many. Nancy Masters said the Owens Valley Committee is opposed to the

project because it conflicts with the Long Term Water Agreement and the Lower Owens River Project. She raised the specter of conservation easements on LA land in the Owens Valley which would halt any development. She called for a “re-visit to this idea.” Fifteen people spoke. All against DWP’s plan.


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32 Responses to Public passion against DWP’s solar ranch

  1. Michael Prather April 17, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    Assurances were made in 2004, during the conservation easement consideration on LADWP lands by Mayor Hahn, that the valley had been well protected by LADWP for 100 years and that it would continue to be so protected. (California Water News, July 26, 2004). In this article Councilman LaBonge stated, “…Los Angeles has carefully protected and preserved this area, which is why these lands are so attractive and valued today.” and, “Los Angeles has protected the Owens Valley for the past 100 years from unwanted and unnecessary development.” In an LA Times, July 7, 2004 article LADWP General Manager Frank Salas said, “…environmentalists and the DWP are in agreement that Owens Valley should be preserved and maintained in its current condition for future generations.”

  2. Philip Anaya April 17, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    All of the speakers, all of the supporters of these folks are a seeking justice. Justice for the lands, justice for the plants and all the animals that do not have a voice. They are also seeking justice for their self determination that this Country was founded upon. That self determination has been usurped and denied by laws that have been carefully crafted to diminish and allow no voice at all. Except for their knowledgeable contributions in forums and the EIR process which experience shows that contribution being ignored and subverted, especially when the agency is crafting the Process and the EIR to what occurs in our homes our Valley, there is little outlet or consideration of the Community. I don’t think that anger is a good focused method of an expression of frustration but it certainly is the emotion that unites a common purpose and eases frustrations as we find new friends to share and to achieve our goals together. Long Live the Inyo.

    • Ken Warner April 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Philip: Here’s a read you might find a connection with.

      There is a widely held belief that Los Angeles went out and “stole” its water from Owens Valley. This viewpoint has produced an entire body of literature and film on the Owens Valley-Los Angeles water war. In nearly every case these works focus solely on how Los Angeles took water from the white settlers at the time the aqueduct was completed in 1913. From academic journals to best sellers, to documentaries and film noir, for the past 100 years the Owens Valley-Los Angeles water story always begins and ends with the Los Angeles Aqueduct. But there is a greater story, an untold story that is rich in history and human achievement—a story that is as much a part of American memory as the creation of our great cities. This story is the history of the Paiute Indians who populated and irrigated Owens Valley for millennia, long before the aqueduct was built.

  3. GW April 17, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Anaya’s description also accurately defines how the OHV community is constantly treated in their efforts to preserve reasonable access to our public lands. Be it wilderness designation or mass road closures, we are basically ignored, other than the token efforts to claim public involvement.

    Environmentalists push the Forest to whitewash Forest actions and policy, so how does it feel now that the shoe is on the other foot? Makes you angry doesn’t it?

  4. Ken Warner April 17, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    I’d like to thank the angry, passionate people of the Owens Valley for doing what they can to assure my dependence on fossil fuels. Our Asian neighbors would like to thank you also because Tourism.

    • Mongo the IDIOT April 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

      Ken, Why do we have to sacrifice this scenic area to minutely reduce dependence on fossil fuel while there are other areas suited to the projects where there would be far less impact?
      There are many thousands of square miles of uninhabited desert out there, why here?

      • Ken Warner April 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

        Mongo: 0.125% of the Owens Valley — which is the size of the Solar Ranch — on tailings from the Rewards Mine — which was used as a dump by Manzanar — is not “…sacrifice this scenic area…”. Go look at it. There’s nothing there except rocks and lizards and desert scrub.

        It’s not destroying the “…entire Owens Valley…” either. And people will still come up here to fish and ski and hike and ride their OHV’s and everything else they do now. Just because there’s a few acres of PV panels is not going to kill tourism. And that’s the crux of the opponent’s argument. That the Solar Ranch will kill tourism. Somehow preventing the people of the Owens Valley from serving the public — for money. Nonsense. I’ll bet Dave McCoy heard similar arguments when he started Mammoth Mountain.

        This has become a confused fight. People don’t really know who or what they are fighting. And arguments — like your’s — become hyper-inflated with rhetoric to prove a point that really doesn’t exist.

        LADWP is so hated that anything they become involved in is automatically opposed. That doesn’t mean that PV panels will destroy the Owens Valley. And if it was built, most people — like yourself — would never even see it.

        • Desert Tortoise April 17, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

          Ken is right. That piece of land is not even remotely pristine. It is probably one of the better places to site a solar generation project. If it was undisturbed land there might, maybe, be an argument against the project. But on land that has served to hold mine tailings and a former landfill? There is no reason not to build it there. The panels are at most five feet high, they are non reflective black (not mirrors as some allege, this is PV not solar thermal) and from three miles away you won’t even notice it. The opposition is greatly overstating the effects and they look like crybabies and fools to me.

    • The Aggressive Progressive April 17, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      But Ken, I would like to think the opposition to this type of project is opening up the door to true sustainability, because to continue these out dated “band aids” is just a avenue for the established to have even more power! Literally!

      True energy dependence happens when it is produced at the point of consumption, anybody to tell you otherwise has their pocket book in mind over energy independence…

      There is other ways Ken, please excuse the people of the Owens valley for protecting what they love, and at the same time not just opposing, but offering rational solutions transpired from the rational concerns.

      Say the SOVSR project goes through and is completed in the manzanar area, then what?
      I ask “then what?” because real success WILL NOT be driven by greater and greater technological advancement, or greater and greater reductions in the percentages of violence, or greater life spans or any of the materialistic notions that we have put forward, real success will be when we finally realize exactly what we are a part of in the natural world and gain complete alignment of… and limiting our independence from coal is a step in the right direction, but only a band aid to the problems the younger generations have to deal with, because we are doing so little or not even talking about them today!

      • Ken Warner April 17, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

        Do you make your own electricity now? Your arguments are just the same mystical musings of a “better World” without any real idea of how to get there.

        Yes, PV panels are someday going to be outmoded — like the steam engines that built our country. So what? We have to use what we have now. Or we can wait for the ideal source of electricity while we continue to use:

        There is no single perfect solution. PV panels in the Owens Valley are one small contribution to the better World you muse on. We shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of good.

  5. Mongo the IDIOT April 17, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    I am very proud to be a part of this community where the land and the people are so firmly connected; this does not happen in our urban centers.
    I believe part of the problem is this; the Inyo reveals itself to us slowly. To a visitor Inyo is beautiful, desolate, and majestic. Yet to the permanent resident, details, phenomenon, and hidden beauties that appear magical have revealed themselves. Nature, like the pages of a book, exposes new layers at every turn which slowly creep into the soul evoking fulfilling human earth connections as old as our true meaning. Simply stated, to be an Inyoite is to belong on and to the earth. It is not to seek escape or improvement, it is to have found satisfaction just the way things are.
    Last night while reading Natural History of the White Inyo Range, C.A. Hall Editor, I was struck by this passage in the introduction which was written 13 years before the solar proposals.
    “The short growing season results in limited plant productivity in a given year. As a result of thin soil and sparse and delicate vegetation, recovery from disturbance is very slow, estimated to be more than 100 years; thus, this is an area demanding diligent preservation.”
    Thank you all for your fight Inyoites. a preserved Inyo is necessary to all earth people. It is the natural go to place for the Angelino who drinks from our well daily and occasionally visits to recreate and refresh their spirit which can go neglected in an urban center. I commonly meet Europeans and others from all over the world who want to see her; the Mother nature, preserved in a valley of creation, until now largely protected from mans alteration.
    From the heart and with a tear on my cheek, thank you…

    • Desert Tortoise April 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      Who are you kidding Mongo? By your own admission you live in LA.

      • Mongo the IDIOT April 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

        I own a house in Independence.
        By your standard, I am more qualified than you who by your own admission lives in Ridgecrest.
        I love the Owens Valley and kid no one. Why must you continually marginalize and demean me simply because you don’t like my point of view?
        When I was a kid my dad took me to Owens Valley, something about it really appealed to me. I remember asking him if we could live there, he asked why I would want to because there is nothing there.
        Still we returned there many times even though we had a sailboat at Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
        Over the years I have lived in many interesting places and seen many faces of nature. Never in my life have have I felt more connected to the earth and at peace that when at the edge of civilization. Based on my experience it is the highest quality living I have experienced. Today’s 0.125% is tomorrows 12.50%; once the camel has its nose under the tent, the rest of the camel easily enters.

        • Ken Warner April 18, 2014 at 9:32 am #

          Mongo: You are fighting ghosts and imaginary monsters under the bed. There are NO PV installations and yet you are now worried about 100 Solar Ranches being built/ That would be 400,000 MegaWatts of power.

          There simply is no way to get that much electricity out of the Owens Valley without building 200 more power lines similar to what is now in the valley.

          Making imaginary demons to fight is what is confusing this whole discussion. First the Solar Ranch was going to disturb the viewshed from the Manzanar parking lot — now you are worried about 100 more installations all over the valley. You — and many others — are simply being irrational.

          • Benett Kessler April 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

            It won’t be irrational if the transmission line from Nevada comes through the Owens Valley as has been reported.

          • Ken Warner April 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

            Benett: I’d like to know more about that transmission line from Nevada. Did you do a story about it that I missed?

            But if the people of Inyo County don’t want to give up 1200 acres of wasteland, why would they allow a massive transmission line to be built. That really would be a viewshed destroyer. And living under it could be a health hazard.

            Of course, if the Long Valley Caldera erupts again, all this discussion is moot….

          • Benett Kessler April 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

            No, I did not do a story on it, but heard a comment by an official. Will see if I can get more. I did hear it’s not a done deal but something in the works.

    • Ken Warner April 18, 2014 at 9:36 am #

      Mongo: “The short growing season results in limited plant productivity in a given year. As a result of thin soil and sparse and delicate vegetation, recovery from disturbance is very slow, estimated to be more than 100 years; thus, this is an area demanding diligent preservation.”

      Does that mean Inyo County should ban all Off Highway Vehicles?

      • Mongo the IDIOT April 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

        I think using existing dirt roads on the valley floor and into the back country is good for tourism and local enjoyment. The impact to vegetation is negligible because the roads are existing. Also, access to natural areas is very important; we need to be able to get there to enjoy it.
        Im afraid that if Inyo banned all off-roading, we would have gates with locks so that USFS and BLM workers would have access, not the public. This would be a double looser for would be desert and forest users because the “damage” would remain with the public benefit being lost.
        I use these dirt roads myself and don’t tear up the vegetation. Also I don’t think off roading impact is comparable to scraping large areas for solar.

        Get your Hate Mongo arguments in now, I’ll be disappearing from here soon, to go outside and enjoy it before it is gone…
        Or perhaps I’ll sell Indy and accept the job offer I got today so that I can continue piling up belongings for no particular reason.

        • Ken Warner April 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

          Mongo: Before the roads were scraped out of the desert, the earth was the unspoiled nature you describe. Now they aren’t…

  6. Desert Tortoise April 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    The county is wasting time and energy on public meetings with LADWP. LA is a charter city. Under Article 11 of the California Constitution, they are exempt from any law Inyo or Mono county passes, and from state laws unless a municipal ordinance of a charter city conflicts with a law that has state wide impact.

    The sole recourse Inyo and Mono counties have are the courts. Only the courts can order LA to do anything. LA might say nice words, or they might not, but ultimately they know the State Constitution grants them sole authority over the land they own. Forget all the touchy feely spiritual hogwash and discussions of rights and what have you. It is wasted breath. Lawyer up and prepare to fight, and to be fought. Everything else is just a waste of time. A court order is the only thing that will modify LAs behavior.

    • Benett Kessler April 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      It is true that DWP must mostly be dealt with in court, but in this case SoCal politics have come in to play a role. We don’t know the extent of it, but LADWP might have to contend with some of their own local politics reacting to the outcry here.

      • Desert Tortoise April 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

        The composition of the LA City Council changes regularly, as do mayors. They can change their policies in response to changes in their physical and political environment. If Lake Meade falls below a level that will allow power generation, as is predicted, LA will lose a major source of electrical power (LADWP owns the hydroelectric plant at Hoover Dam) then you can be double darn certain they will build that pv array.

        LA is not bound by anything unless a court orders it so.

        • Benett Kessler April 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

          As usual, you are right and I am wrong.

        • Eastside Dweller April 17, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

          Bureau of Reclamation owns Hoover Dam and the power plants there. DWP operated the plants until 1987. Hoover supplies about 6% of LA’s power. They could offset that with just changing out lightbulbs. Hoover power is not counted as renewable as far as state or city goals.

          If public support falls below a level that will allow political career generation, as predicted, LA will lose a major source of political will. Then you can be double dam certain they can be stopped from building that PV array.

    • Mongo the IDIOT April 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

      If due process and discussion is a waste of time then we on this blog are all guilty of killing time; some more than others.

  7. Mongo the IDIOT April 18, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    I am afraid that if I continue here I will alienate myself from many people in the community.
    I don’t want that.

  8. salblaster April 18, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Not sure where the disinformation of the solar ranch having tailings from reward mine spread out on it is comin from. The reward mine is big, bigenough to drive a 4×4 truck all the way to the back of it, but the mine and the tailings are above the valley floor on the side of a hill east of the solar area.

    • Ken Warner April 19, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      salblaster: Must be partly my fault. I read the “tailing” issue somewhere. But the real problem is that a site map for the Solar Ranch hasn’t been published — to my knowledge — nobody really knows where it will be or what it will look like except that it will be somewhere East of Mananar. I think this is what you are talking about re: the Rewards Mine.

      • Benett Kessler April 19, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

        DWP did issue a Fact Sheet with a map of the solar project. If you want it, I’ll email it to you.

        • Ken Warner April 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

          Yes, please do email it to me. You might want to publish it also so we could all be on the same page — so to speak.

  9. TT April 19, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    It seems as though the same people who where willing to sacrifice tourism to save a little frog are now the ones claiming to care about tourism in regards to the solar project….Tourism will not be affected whatsoever. If anybody is naive enough to think any tourist would decide not to spend money here because some panels are out in the desert then we’re really in trouble…


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