Letter to the editor: Another side of solar


Solar Panel

photo by Jim Stroh

The Middle Finger 

By Charles James, Big Pine, CA

17 February 2014

The “California Salute,” that lifting of the middle finger in an otherwise closed fist, is the oft-used, “unofficial” fourth motor vehicle hand signal after “right-turn,” “left-turn,” and “stop” on California roadways. Also known as “flipping the bird,” as we all know: “The bird is the word” says the song and apparently so as well in the opinion of the writer of “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley.”

In Greek mythology there is the well-known story of Icarus who, ignoring his father’s advice, flew too close to the sun wearing wings made of feathers and held together by wax. The wax melted and he plunged to his death. It wasn’t the fall that killed him; he drowned in the sea. There is no record of whether or not he “flipped the bird” at the sun on his way down while shouting “Damn solar energy!”

In the recent Letter to the Editor titled, “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley”, the author metaphorically compared the “elongated shape of the proposed REDA (Renewable Energy Development Areas) as a giant middle finger flipped by Planning Department staff at those who love Owens Valley,”−because obviously the only group of people that truly love the Owens Valley and know what is best belong to the alliance represented by the writer. There could however be other views as well as alternative interpretations of the “elongated shape.”

Having their work and views misrepresented through use of an invented metaphor, who could blame the Planning Department staff if they wished to “flip their middle finger” at a particular someone. On the other hand, couldn’t the “elongated shape” be said to as easily resemble an “erection,” although one whose shape would send most men immediately to a doctor for treatment? Apparently 95% of the “erection” is on land owned by the LADWP. (Doesn’t this alternative interpretation seem somehow familiar, if not more applicable?)

As to the comment of the “remarkable display of opposition to DWP’s proposed industrial scale solar facility near Manzanar”, you might get the impression that there is overwhelming opposition in Inyo County to the project. Although far less vocal, there are many local business owners and private citizens that support the project and the economic boost that it could provide, saying that the short-term benefits of construction jobs and the long-term benefit of providing good paying local jobs into the future are exactly what the county needs. Actually, no one can prove (or disprove) that the project’s opponents or proponents represent a majority of voters or residents in the county. Loud protests do not signal a majority of opinion any more than silence.

Some feel that the solar energy project could bring much-needed jobs into the area, an improved housing market, and an improved local economy for Independence and Lone Pine. It could also mean more children in local schools, better state funding, and attract more young families. The Town of Independence is practically on life-support− and to be blunt, Inyo County needs to be something other than retirement communities… or a just great place to have a government job.

Tourism, often touted as both “savior” and “economic engine” for Inyo County, is a fickle mistress. Even in good years it provides only a hand-to-mouth existence for most workers in the private sector through low-wage, unskilled, and often part-time jobs. Allowing some limited industrialization or manufacturing within the county is a viable alternative to the sole reliance on tourism. The “slippery slope” argument that the valley floor will be overtaken by industrialization is not only a greatly exaggerated hypothetical, it is a well-known weak form (fallacy) of argumentation. Just because “A” happens is no guarantee that “B” will necessarily follow.

Unfortunately our County has no real economic development plan. Part of the county government’s responsibility is to provide social and economic stability− and while a viewshed may be aesthetically pleasing and spiritually fulfilling to some, it doesn’t put food on the table for all the talk of its value as a tourist attraction. That may be particularly true with respect to the area in which the solar energy project is being proposed. There are many viewsheds of equal or even greater value to be found in the valley. Also, consider the CARMA radio telescopes north of Big Pine which add interest to an otherwise unvarying landscape that many travelers along the 395 often describe as “boring.”

As to the charge of County Supervisors and Commissioners typically acquiescing to staff recommendations, the simple fact is− that is how representative government works. County supervisors throughout the state depend on staff to gather information and make recommendations to them to make informed decisions.

The Inyo County Planning Department is not a political or environmental organization. Its employees are not paid to write reports and make recommendations that espouse a particular political or philosophical view, or promote an environmental ideology or other cause. Nor are they in the business or habit of “flipping others off.” Their job (and they do it well) is to provide the Board of Supervisors with objective information upon which to base its decisions.

Anyone who has taken the time to attend the many public planning workshops and read the reports provided by the employees of the Planning Department know them to be highly professional and open-minded. They do not deserve to be belittled.

The writer’s opinion of the “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley” would have greater merit if he had restrained himself from ad hominem attacks on county supervisors and county staff. It is one thing to disagree−everyone should have that right and opportunity−but it is quite another to resort to falsely manufacture accusations, misrepresent others’ actions, or attempt to belittle those with whom you disagree.

Keep in mind that you are the company you keep. Appeals to emotion are fine, but more important are true facts and then making good arguments in favor of your position. And own up to your middle finger; perhaps it is pointing towards you.


30 Responses to Letter to the editor: Another side of solar

  1. Ken Warner February 18, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Very good James. A little wordy but the premise is right on. The valley’s reliance on tourism is exactly what was sold the early residents as fair trade for losing their water and ability to develop an agricultural base. We can see the results of that dependency in every town and community in the valley. Unless you only see what you want to see…

  2. Mongo February 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Is The Scenic Byway worth preserving, or are other options more cost benefit effective to society? The scenic area is of interest to society while the solar project being in OV may be more corporately and land holder profit motivated.

  3. Mongo, Superficial Conservationist February 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    I recycle bottles, plastic, newspaper and cans,
    I pay CRV,
    I use reusable shopping bags,
    I have a catalytic converter on my car,
    I observe no burn days,
    I use public transportation,
    I walk instead of using the car,
    I read Walden, Life in the Woods,
    Most of these activities benefit some business or industry.
    Just like solar on a scenic byway.

    • Eastern Sierra Local February 18, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

      Actually, “Mongo the Conservationist” the “Coalition of Unified Recreation in the Eastern Sierra” (CURES- a now defunct organization) designated US 395 a “Scenic Byway” but that designation holds no significance officially other than to CURES-there no official “scenic byway” in the eastern Sierra. US 395 is an official State designated Scenic Highway from Fort Independence to just south of Big Pine- well far away from the current proposed solar farm in Manzanar.

      • Mongo February 18, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

        You’re right.
        Go ahead with the panels.

        • Benett Kessler February 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

          I think you had good points earlier, Mongo. Our own perceptions of beauty and scenery have validity. They don’t need to be locked down with a designation one way or the other.
          I am sad that southern Inyo, with the exception of Laws and Deep Springs, have been exclusively chosen for solar development. Laws and southern Inyo have suffered the most damage from groundwater pumping. BK

          • Eastern Sierra Local February 19, 2014 at 9:01 am #

            This is half correct Ms. Kessler; Daniel Prichett’s letter you posted earlier (of which Mr. James is responding to) specifically calls out “the world class beauty” of Owens Valley and how the Inyo County Planning Department is thumbing their noses to those designations (sic). There is no designation of the Owens Valley as scenic, not by the BLM, LADWP, or the Forest Service; the only Agency to have made that designation is Caltrans and it’s not in this location. Under CEQA, if there’s no official designation as “scenic” there is “No Impact.” For people to be in opposition to a solar farm based upon their interpretation as to what is “scenic” doesn’t hold merit to official designations. And FYI, I know many people who find the Owens Valley a lifeless desert that holds NO interest to them (I disagree with them though).

          • Mongo February 19, 2014 at 9:06 am #

            I know that I am wrong for this part of society.
            I hold beauty, people and spirit above commerce.
            To me the whole point of money is to enjoy these things.
            Commercialism seemingly drives everything we do.
            Our stewardship to the earth and to each other lays dead in the shadow of development.
            We don’t talk, we can’t afford authenticity.
            You don’t believe me when I say “I want nothing from you and wish you the best.” We’re all afraid.
            In the past I have shed a tear of gratitude for Owens majestic gift.
            There is already a new kind of tear.
            Once again, the door will shut on a unique place and a unique gathering of people will migrate to the next endangered paradise.
            It must be too late, the tear has come and I already miss you.
            For the journey, I will love what we have while you improve it.
            In the end we will both rest in the same Mother soil.
            Reunited after a short existence of unknown consequence.
            Thank you for what we did give each other.
            Thank you for what we did enjoy unimpaired.
            It was meaningful and fulfilling to me.

  4. Charles James February 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Ken, thanks for the kind words.

    My concern is more to the type of dialogue surrounding the project that eschew or distort facts and then resort to incivility. I knew that many would not agree with my listing what some feel are the positive aspects of the solar energy project. Many of those against the project are friends or people I know well from working in the south end of the county as well as covering stories for local news media. I am a Centrist by nature with some progressive leanings. My affection and respect for others doesn’t include walking lock-step with them on every issue or cause.

    If those against the project somehow manage to succeed, more power to them…and to the cause of their particular brand of environmentalism. That’s democracy. And if they lose, which I suspect may be likely given the state and federal goals and support for green energy production, well that’s just success for a different brand or view of environmentalism which will have carried the day. In either case, I hope all of us continue to engage in the process…and to do so with civility.

    • Ken Warner February 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      “My concern is more to the type of dialogue surrounding the project that eschew or distort facts and then resort to incivility.”

      So sad — so true. Seems an intractable problem and not unique to SierraWave.

  5. Philip Anaya February 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    “Inyo County is a land of contrasts formed by the diverse and abundant natural riches located here.” This is from page 1-1 of the Inyo county General Plan


    This Document was crafted in Dec 2001. I’m thinking an open “Space Odyssey”
    The people who crafted it’s drafting, with the contributions of so many here were Professional Planners of the County of Inyo. The lands that are now being reassesed by the current Planning Department Staff, this Renewable Energy Development Area (REDA) is currently zoned for Conservation and Agriculture . Good land use planning practices would dictate that there should be overwhelming issues and concerns that would necessitate a change to a zoning designation to allow for such a divergent usage of industrial development. Not being an expert professional planning official and not being someone lucky to be born and raised in the Owens Valley does not limit the logic or the knowledge of that opinion. Everyone in this Valley, in terms of the geologic time frames where this proposed Industrialization will reside/begin is a newcomer and this project could change forever the landscape and the geologic history of the Owens Valley. The current zoning of the proposed REDA site , it’s overlay of the Lower Owens River revitalization (Project) is not what I want to see occur. Everyone can make their own decision about that and thanks to the Sierra Wave we get to have this debate. My friend Daniel is a dedicated steward of the earth. His communication as Mr. Jame’s reflects difference’s in style, in their individual selfs, but there is a decision that will be made soon in the future that will affect us all and affect what the future will be in the Owens Valley. We really need to get that right. We need to decide if the “Sierra Nevada Mountains,with their steep granite peaks ,provide a striking and consistant visual backdrop along the western edge of the County” ( also from page 1-1 of the Inyo County General Plan ) we need to decide if 102 sq miles of this REDA industrial scale solar development area is compatable with that description of the Inyo. I think not.

    • Charles James February 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

      Philip, thank you for the comment. As usual your comments on these posts often eloquently explain your views and your obvious love for the area.

      As you noted the General Plan Goals were promulgated in 2001. General plans however are not static documents, but are revised periodically to meet changing needs or priorities. Solar energy plant generation in the Owens Valley was not really the issue in 2001 that it is today with the state’s goal of developing 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Needs and priorities have changed over 13 years.

      There has also been a change within the environmental community in which a schism has developed over green energy projects pitting Preservationists and No Growth advocates (often accused unfairly of NIMBY-ism) against Conservationists. (For the record, I consider myself a Conservationist). All of them place great value on the environment but differ greatly on the means to protect it. In large measure that is what we are seeing played out on the renewable energy proposals in the Owens Valley.

      I cannot entirely agree with your premise that “this project could change forever the landscape and the geologic history of the Owens Valley”. To the contrary, advances in technology likely will eventually diminish or take away the need for large solar energy plants. While that is not the case now and it may not be for many years to come, it is at least a likely possibility as new energy production technologies are developed.

      I am not sure that I quite understand your point in the use of “geologic history” within the context of your comment, but I do know that the human history of Inyo County has seen it farmed, ranched, lumbered, and mined virtually all up and down the length of the valley and the mountains. There is certainly very little “pristine” about our area, which is not an argument to not try to improve it or return it to its former natural state (provided anyone can figure out what that is exactly given the 150 years of human activity by European American settlers and the even much greater period of habitation by Native Americans.)

      Lastly, let’s both agree that Daniel is a dedicated “steward of the earth”. If not for his efforts on behalf of water issues and our environment, we would all be the worse off for it. I do not question his sincerity, passion, or credentials, only his sometimes harsh incivility towards those with whom he disagrees. But whether he is “pissing inside or outside of a tent” (to quote from his interest letter to serve on the Water Commission), he is still pissing people off and in my view, unnecessary. You are right however, “he is who he is”, and I wouldn’t want to see him change if it diminished in any way his commitment and passion.

      • Philip Anaya February 20, 2014 at 11:31 pm #

        Mr. James has much more understanding and experience with the Environmental Community than myself. I am aware of a confusion residing within myself between Global Warming ,Carbon Footprints , the need for renewable energy all vital essential broad strokes to Earths health and salvation and the conflict that arises when the application of those broad strokes effect the local environment. This is a subject worthy of discussion and understanding . The clichés of throwing the baby out with the bath water , cutting off the nose to spite the face come to mind when the idea of industrial scale PV development arrived in the Valley, when the scale of the proposals out weighed the benefit.
        The Valley will never be pristine enough for me truth be told. The focus of the specter of the proposed PV Projects , this REGPA, leaves me with an over active visual assessment of transmission lines with every trip on 395. However the observation of the mountain sides east and west , the thought that there are places on those slopes that have never had a footprint except maybe for some bighorn sheep, the Valley is not pristine and yet it is empty and worthy enough to be preserved into eternity. In this world and existence that was given to us is it not the Valley that is a wonde in our Inyo backyard. If you don’t get it Mr. Warner it’s not that it’s not there and calling out to you . I for one, should certainly be doing a better job describing and sharing that perception,the majesty of it all, but I guess that discovery is up to you and to each one of us. I hope that we do enough so that our children’s, children’s, children can also have the empty spaces, forever to share in that perception as well.

  6. Ben Holgate February 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm #


    You concede here that Inyo doesn’t have a plan for economic development. So, starting from a point of agreement is good – Everyone knows industrial solar is not part of any economic development plan for the Owens Valley.

    Many of us are working with our elected leaders on a plan for Inyo that includes sustainable development, respectful of our cultural heritage and natural habitat. That is why we attend meetings and speak up.

    Fear of industrial development in the OV is reasonable and warranted based on the two massive projects (2100 acres) currently proposed and the disgracefully arbitrary nature of LADWP’s EIR. The EIR has been completely upbraided and decimated by the best minds in our community, people I would be honored to be associated with. The truth is indeed an offense.

    County staff know who they are accountable to. I’m sure they weren’t surprised that there is an angry response to documents they produced that were totally incongruous with the input they received from community leaders at a very well attended public meeting in Independence.

  7. Eastern Sierra Local February 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Excellent article and commentary. It’s quite interesting how the individual who wrote the initial piece that you’re responding to claims to represent many people in the Owens Valley- yet I actually support solar projects in the Owens Valley- he doesn’t speak for me.

  8. MJA February 19, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    Sometimes truth like the dust in the Owens Valley is hard to swallow. Way to go James. =

  9. philip anaya February 19, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    An open letter to Inyo County Planning

    Dear Mr. Hart , Inyo County Planning Director
    As you know the documents for the REGPA item #6 for the Planning Commission Meeting Feb 26 ,2014 are quite extensive, highly technical and specific and I thank you and your staff for their preparation and availabilty online.
    However all this information has only been made available as of last Friday, Feb 14, 2014 and now the public finds that this information will be presented to the Planning Commission as an action item.
    I believe that it is normal for Commissions to be the conduit of the opportunity for public education and public input and I hereby request that the REGPA information be presented Feb 26, 2014 for only study purposes and that the Planning Commission only consider it’s contents, at either it’s next schedule meeting or at a special meeting convened for further public education and public input, before any action or recommendation from the Commission to the Board of Supervisors . I am certain that the members of our Board of Supervisors are concerned with the public education and input with this matter as with every other issue. Thank You , Philip Anaya

  10. Desert Tortoise February 19, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    Will some of you please drive south to Mojave and see, what little there is to be seen, of a similar project immediately west of Hwy 14 just south of Mojave, and two more such installations on Hwy 138 west of Lancaster. This is not anything like the big solar plant at Kramer Junction. These are very low profile installations made up of dark, non-reflective panels that stand no more than five feet high. Desert scrub and a little bit of terrain mostly hides the site south of Mojave. They are not industrial looking at all. Much of the angst is not informed by fact. Go look at these sites and see what I mean. They are not eyesores at all.

    • Ken Warner February 19, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

      Good point DT. People get upset over things they have never seen except in their imagination.

      My thoughts about the Manzanar (beating that dead horse again) is that the heat shimmer off the dark ground would make whatever PV panels installed invisible from Manzanar and most of 395.

    • philip anaya February 20, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      I would agree with you DT that the 2 PV Solar projects do not present visual impacts to their surroundings. The entire area is covered for many square miles with Industrial Scale Renewable Energy Projects. These two projects fit right in to that modern day Industrial landscape. They however are not 4 square miles of panels overlaid over a conservation agriculture zoning and the conforming appropriate land use Lower Owens River Project revitalization. The Mojave projects are also not in the Manzanar Historic viewshed. The Mojave Projects are somewhat shielded by the desert scrub along Highway 14,you are correct,but the Mojave Projects are not in the north south Owens Valley with 14,000 foot “Sierra Nevada Mountains, with their steep granite peaks, providing a striking and visual backdrop along the western edge of the County.” (Inyo County General Plan page 1-1) Different folks have different perceptions and values. Some folks I guess wouldn’t mind having 4 square miles of PV Solar panels in their next door neighbors yards after living for decades with nothing but boring empty desert . They might be saying “Thank goodness I got Industrial Scale Development right next door . I wonder when they’ll be coming around to buy my place and fill it up with PV Solar?” There’s a lot of money to be made by all this development. I wonder what the capitol outlay is for 4 square miles of PV Panels? I wonder how much it costs for the development of a project? They aren’t called “City Slickers’ for nothing and they don’t see any thing of value in a natural viewshed. It’s hard to see past the Dollar signs in their eyes. So DT. How about a little respect for the perception of others, for this Valley and a little honesty in this comparison that you attempt to make . You aren’t one of those City Slickers are you ?

  11. Ken Warner February 20, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    PA: Your post is largely nonsense.

    1) There is no such thing as Manzanar Historic viewshed.
    2) If you are looking at the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Manzanar or 395, you couldn’t see the PV panels unless you have eyes in the back of your head.
    3) Yes, people have different values. Many people see renewable energy projects as a blessing to our society given the ecological disaster of the current and previous generation methods from which you now get your electricity.
    4) A 4 square mile PV generation facility is not going to be built in your neighbors yard or your yard — unless you have a really big yard.
    5) You are not going to pay for this facility and some people are going to make money from it. People are making money all around you like when you go to the gas station to fill your gas tank or when you pay your ISP to give you access to this forum or when you pay your utility bills.

    How about a little respect for the perception of others?

    • Benett Kessler February 20, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      Your last line could be applied to you as well.

      • Mongo February 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

        I’m a city slicker and I love to escape and enjoy the undeveloped OV. It is necessary that I escape for my overall health.
        I don’t drive out to Victorville, Twenty-nine Palms, Lancaster, Bakersfield, Mojave, Salton Sea, or any other uninhabited areas of California.
        Why do I prefer OV to these areas?
        Because convenient OV is sandwiched between two magnificent mountain ranges. OV is largely undeveloped and gives this urban visitor the sense of traveling back in time. OV has one of the best historical museums in the state, a narrow gauge railroad that is being restored, the best hunting and fishing in the state, and a low population.
        Why cant we put this solar project in an uninhabited area like the strip between the Northern boundary of Fort Irwin and the Southern boundary of Death Valley. There is nobody there, several hundred square miles of land, and lots of sun.
        My guess is that placing this in OV is very profitable and at the same time derails the water conversation. Double winner for those seeking power and control.
        My option for the peace I seek is to move a couple of states over, pay me handsomely for my land so I can leave.

      • Ken Warner February 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

        Benett: If you bothered to read your own blog, you would see that it’s not my line, it’s philip anaya’s.

        • Benett Kessler February 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

          The comment has Ken Warner’s name on it.

          • Ken Warner February 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

            philip anaya February 20, 2014 at 10:08 am #
            I would agree with you DT …

            So DT. How about a little respect for the perception of others, for this Valley and a little honesty in this comparison that you attempt to make .

          • Benett Kessler February 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

            That’s not the comment I was commenting on. But, Anaya makes a good point.

    • kwak February 20, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      There is, in fact, a Manzanar Historic Viewshed (it’s tautological–look it up); what’s absent is your willingness or capacity to recognize it (or your illusion that in order for something to exist there must be an official designation of some sort by some agency). What is now the Manzanar National Monument is not all of what Manzanar was–it is a small portion, rescued from neglect and intentional destruction, by an intense lobbying effort from people who didn’t want it to be forgotten, combined with an act of Congress and a land-swap deal with the LADWP, which owned the land.

      Somehow the issue of ‘will it be visible?’ has so far been argued only from the perspective of people who never get out of their cars, or like the carpenter who does a lousy job and says ‘it’ll look good from my house.’ For anyone who hikes above the valley floor between Owens Lake and Big Pine, it will be a large eyesore. For anyone visiting the Reward mine or hiking the Pat Keyes trail, it will be an obstacle. And the proposed site is rich in both historic and prehistoric artifacts, not to mention plants and animals and habitat, all of which will be bulldozed in much the same way Manzanar was bulldozed.

      And yes, people of good will can disagree about the relative merits of different ways to produce (or use) energy, and what constitutes the best possible site. Previously degraded sites like mine tailings and other post-industrial disaster areas make good locations, for example, especially when they’re close to the city that wants the benefits of the production.

      And it’s nice to hear that many people consider the terrain in question to be a desert wasteland, as that reduces their direct impact: they can stay in their cars and drive on by, looking for the Trader Joe’s they hope awaits them over the next horizon. The problem comes when this sort of ignorance translates into land-use policy, along the lines of the old aphorism, ‘if you don’t understand it, kill it.’

      • Mongo February 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

        When I venture into this “desert wasteland” as some describe it, I am continually amazed by the diversity of unusual adaptive life that has been preserved in this geographically isolated and uniquely watered desert region. I know the value of the OV and of the incidental rarity of its unlikely preservation leading to now. We as a species are ignorant to our actions, of that I am sure. If we continue, our denial may be cured by extinction. Surely the nature we are all ruled by has a way of counteracting that which becomes disproportionate; call it God, Karma, or Science, it is real and cannot be denied.


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