How solar power and desert ecosystems might get along

DRECP BOS Public Meeting-Independence (1) (Custom)Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

By Charles James

Last week’s Tuesday evening public meeting hosted in Independence by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors demonstrated the keen interest that the public has in renewable energy, an interest shared in a recent Gallop poll which showed Americans overwhelmingly supporting solar energy.

In an alphabet soup of acronyms designating local, state, and federal agencies and programs, it was explained to the fifty-plus interested citizens in attendance that the state of California is requiring that solar, wind and other renewable sources make up 33 percent of the electricity supply by 2020, which is among one of the most ambitious programs ever attempted.

The state’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is being developed by the California Energy Commission (CEC). The objective is to put

CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas speaks. Sitting to the extreme right is Jim Kenna, State BLM Director.

CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas speaks. Sitting to the extreme right is Jim Kenna, State BLM Director.

together a plan that will help provide effective protection and conservation of desert ecosystems while allowing for the appropriate development of renewable energy projects that provides greater surety of timelines, potential costs and hurdles facing developers in order to fast-track renewable energy production to combat greenhouse gasses.

Commissioner Karen Douglas with the California Energy Commission thanked the board for its invitation and went on to explain the purpose of the DRECP. “There is a need to be more ‘proactive’ rather than always being ‘reactive’, explained Douglas. As seen with the three recent solar energy projects that have surfaced in the Owens Valley just within the past several years due to the state of California’s ambitious renewable and conservation effort, the CEC decided they could no longer continue to do things on a project-by-project basis, but needed to have a global plan in place to help guarantee that planning agencies, as well as potential developers, had the tools readily available to them to make sound decisions.

The DRECP focus is on the desert regions and adjacent lands of seven California counties – Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego, which cover 22.5 million acres of federal and non-federal California desert land. The objective is to promote the creation, transmission, and storage of renewable energy while respecting environmental concerns.

The alphabet soup of agencies coming together under the DRECP are the CEC (California Energy Commission, the CDFWF (California Department of Fish and Game), the BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management), and the USFWS, (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service); together known as REAT (Renewable Energy Action Team), these agencies, along with others that will have to be consulted as well, will work together coordinating on large renewable energy projects in California.

Cautioning the audience that the draft plan will be a very different document from the final plan, Douglas said that they are only at the starting point and the finish line is a ways off and it will be undergoing constant change and revision.

The DRECP website at is the best source for current information for both the public that wants to be kept informed and participate and for the agencies charged with the planning. The information available to the public on the website will be the same as used by the

planning agencies in the process. “The idea is to be as inclusive and transparent as possible,” said Douglas.

Jim Kenna, the Director for the California Bureau of Land Management (BLM), told the audience that this is going to be a very long-term process lasting until 2040. The state has a baseline goal of 20,000 megawatts. He went on to explain the challenges facing California’s energy needs with the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Plant and the Mojave Power Station. Adding to the problem are the increasingly stringent standards affecting energy production, noting that the issues are “complex with many moving parts.”

Kenna said that an aging infrastructure will, as it fails, force losses of energy production that must be replaced. He went on to say that increased energy demands of modern technology, combined by the needs of transportation− complicated by climate change, concerns with natural gas production such as “fracking”, and up-and-coming technologies, the future presents many challenges which will need to be assessed and reassessed on an ongoing basis and then integrated into the renewable energy program.

As a result of the DRECP initiative, the BLM will be amending all of its Land Use Plans in the state. The U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species Act (ESA) will be a part of the planning process as will the state’s California Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP).

Heard repeatedly throughout the meeting and at information tables set around the room was “it is an ambitious goal” and that the “devil will be in the details.”

Many concerns surround the issue of renewable solar energy projects in the Owens Valley such as fears of industrialization, loss of scenic views, added water losses, and continued exploitation by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power…and now perhaps others. Some residents unequivocally support the renewable energy projects while others question the benefits of new jobs and clean energy production in the valley versus costs to the local environment and scenic views.

The Owens Valley Committee recently submitted comments to the LADWP on its concerns over the proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Project. The more recent news of the proposed Northland Power 200-Megawatt plant off Mazourka Canyon Road outside of Independence is creating ever-growing concern over the cumulative effects of an ever-expanding industrial solar power industry blanketing the Owens Valley.

If nothing else, Tuesday’s DRECP meeting showed that renewable energy, especially solar here in the Owens Valley, will be a subject that will continue to generate both considerable interest and concern.

The adage that “nothing in life is free” is well-applied to the many issues that surround energy production whether from legacy or renewable energy sources. Even “green” energy comes at a cost.


13 Responses to How solar power and desert ecosystems might get along

  1. Ken Warner November 20, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Something to think about —

    Oil, coal and gas companies are contributing to most carbon emissions, causing climate change and some are also funding denial campaigns. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters
    The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

  2. Mongo November 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Why put this in the desert at all, why not put it in your back yard CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas?
    Just kidding, it would be inappropriate to put this in a neighborhood full of multimillion dollar homes.
    Is it because???
    It’s ugly and you don’t value the desert.
    Because desert land is cheap.
    Because it’s easier to get cooperation in a county of less than 20,000 than a city of 150,000.
    I think it great that you got rid of the reactor at the beach yet think you are being lazy by putting panels in OV to serve LA.
    Try Antelope Valley, it’s closer and very ugly already.
    Please, share your reason as to why this needs to be in the Easter Sierra Scenic Corridor.

    • Desert Tortoise November 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      With a salary of $128,109 she would qualify for a loan on a median priced home in Los Angeles or San Diego. She is a state employee who’s salary is public information.

      Btw, there are already two arrays east of Lancaster on opposite side of Hwy 138 that are of the same type the DWP plans for the former Manzanar landfill site. They are not obtrusive at all. Go drive down there and have a look. There is quite a bit of solar in the AV.

  3. Philip Anaya November 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    We all want to protect our planet. Renewable energy fits that bill. We all want to assure the survival of all living things. The living things in the Owens Valley have been under assault for many decades so there are many questions and needed answers before the plants, animals ,view sheds, our cultural heritage and our economic survival which is based on our natural landscape can be allowed to be assaulted once again. We are in the midst of a great question for the survival of our Natural Setting and the question of the Manzanar Rewards and the Northland Power’s Solar Projects need a resolution. They need to be scaled down to a human sense and they need to provide a benefit to the Valley before they are even considered for an agreement to have them in our environ. If our Landscape is to be changed to a Industrial Scale renewable energy locale as we have seen in the Mojave area then Progress will win once again and Nature will retreat. The DWP will pump the Valley dry because no one with any sense will wish to be home in the Owens Valley and that’s exactly what DWP would like to see.
    These issues that threaten our natural landscapes need the best expertise and just as the County has had to establish a Water Department to contend with the DWP and the Water Agreement, maybe it’s time to seek and hire some expert renewable energy professionals to supplement and empower the Planning Department to review, educate and recommend appropriate responses to the Board of Supervisors. If anything has been learned so far from dealing with the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Project, it is that Inyo County could benefit from some greater expertise.

  4. JeremiahJoseph November 21, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I think I’m over opposing the project (I am just another opinion anyway), We need green energy! I don’t see a win at all opposing something that is definitely needed at this stage of the game, Yes I understand I may be scratching the backs of those who do not even believe in climate change, but we need to do something today! and if we aren’t going to go out of our way to sacrifice our comfort zone or give up any of the convenience that is a contributor to climate destabilization, then what are we really helping? and how can we expect to transition out of this status quo of energy production when we fight to oppose it when it is inconvenient for us?
    There has got to be a way we can work towards the better of us all, and I would rather use my own energy working towards that, than opposing something that is a probable solution to this energy problem, maybe not a win for us today, but we shouldn’t let that limit our chances tomorrow….

    • MajorTom November 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      I agree. We are all going to suffer from climate change and therefore we are all in it together. The amount of industrial energy that can be built in the Owens Valley is limited by the remaining capacity in the transmission lines out of the county. As far as I am concerned, every bit of excess transmission capacity in the nation should be filled with renewable energy that is generated in the most cost effective manner. There are two entities vying to build out that capacity here – if I were king the one that offered the most to the community would get the nod. I would require them put up a 150 foot flag pole with a giant American flag on top, with a small U.N. flag beneath, to indicate that this industrial project is there as Inyo County’s contribution to solving a local, national and global problem.

      The desire to freeze the valley exactly as it is also is also concerning. There are companies now exploring for additional geothermal capacity around Rose Valley, are they to be barred because they will impact the views from 395 or from the top of the mountains? Coso geothermal pays huge taxes which help to educate our kids and to provide services (unlike solar energy companies). Energy development can be an opportunity for us as well as a threat.

      The time to fight is when the inevitable proposals are made to increase transmission capacity out of the valley. That would be the threat to guard against and must happen before the Owens Valley is carpeted with solar. That would be something to worry about.

      • Philip Anaya November 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

        “Ground Control to Major Tom. Take your protein pill and put your helmet on.” What a great song . Almost takes you into low orbit and a view of the Earth.
        From that view are there not places on the planet where there could be a project site of last resort. How about the Owens Valley? It’s a remarkable bit of morphology. It does contain the Inyo-Rinaldi Transmission Corridor for electric transmission, The wires are almost invisible but the towers are a trail and the earthen roads get dusty with maintenance inspection and activity and explorers like myself. The Inyo-Rinaldi 230kv single circuit Transmission Line has a capacity of 450 mega watts . There are 240 mega watts of available capacity. Don’t even ask me what that really means except all these numbers are about to change as they upgrade the lower portion of the Transmission Line from Barren Ridge south to 3,000 mega watts. There are currently 16 projects that will interconnect on this Transmission Line and those project’s energy generation are in excess of the capacity of the Transmission Line, even once upgraded, by 614 mega watts.(ref ).
        The time to understand how Transmisson and Renewable Energy merge is now, especially in the Owens Valley. If you are capable of fully understanding this highly technical try this website:
        Try table 2 and you will see that the costs for energy transmission are out of this world . A 230kv single circuit power line costs $ 927,000 per mile. A double circuit 230kv double circuit $1,484,000 per mile. A 500kv single circuit is $1,854,000 per mile. 249 miles to Northridge from my door in Bishop. Does this remind anybody about dollars to be had, 100 years ago in the San Fernando Valley . Not too many of us know about Generation and Transmission of renewable energy and the economic forces and dollars to be made. That’s why I advocate for expertise and human scale local generation of renewable energy. That’s why Inyo County needs expertise to guide their decisions. There are players on the loose in the Renewable Energy industry and dollars are the goal, not sustainability and not a care about global warming or our planet. Ground Control to Major Tom is your circuit dead is there something wrong. Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?

        • MajorTom November 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

          I can hear you Philip. I agree it is a great song. It plays in my head every time I write a post.

          I do not claim to be an expert on transmission, but your statement sounds true to everything I have heard. Transmission is the key to renewable energy, and also the hard part. It is expensive and building new lines is likely to require extensive environmental review with all the attendant public comment. You can’t just string new lines on existing poles. So my understanding is that the capacity leaving the valley is the limit for the time being, unless new lines are constructed which would be a big deal. I think there is an obligation to fill that capacity up if we can, and it is reassuring that the transmission puts a limit on what can be built in the valley. Are they proposing new capacity out of the valley? That would be what I would be concerned about. (I don’t know where Barren Ridge is.)

          Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.

          • Philip Anaya November 23, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

            Major Tom , We cannot afford to lose you, have you wandering off into the siren call of the wonder and beauty of it all. We need your closer inspection to reveal our handprints on the planet. Maybe a haze on the elliptical horizon is a clue. We need people like you to help people on the Planet who can work on this long term future of the Earth even as we continue to have greed, hatred ,distrust and wars between nations ,between people who do not have your view ,your experience of “floating in a most unfamiliar way and the Stars look very different today.” Let’s think in terms of building bridges that unify all of us . Lets abandon the idea of building bridges to nowhere. If there is a capacity lets indeed make a plan to utilize the investment, not with only the dollars spent but the best ideas for hard earned dollars and efforts that everyone needs and pursues for a genuine best solution. Let’s demand that our Institutions are true to themselves and truthful and open for their plans of our futures.
            Barren Ridge is a substation north of Mojave along side highway 14, about 10 miles south of Red Rock Canyon about the. To understand about the Capacity of the Inyo-Rinaldi Transmission Line (aka Owens Gorge-Rinaldi and aka, the Owens-Rinaldi Corridor) one must be aware of the Queue List. The Queue List fixes priorities for the connection (Interconnection) of all Energy Generation Project to a transmission line on a first come first served basis. Now DWP has a priority position on the Queue List Q09 for 200 megawatts for it’s Solar Ranch Project but according to the filing date and the latest proposed project site at Manzanar Rewards and the rules for the Queue Position defined in the LGIP, the DWP only has that priority position for the original proposed Sites at Owenyo and The Southern Alternative below Lone Pine. Northland Power’s Masourka Canyon Rd Project has the priority position of Q23 for 138 mega watts. There is only capacity for one of these projects. Northland Power has only recently revitalized it’s Inyo County Planning process with contracting for a EIR review of it’s project, They probably would not be doing this unless they had some assurance of a Interconnection to the Transmission Line.
            Major Tom , There is no way that planet Earth is Blue affords the dynamic of this dollar driven cluster of activity . Even the County who is under fiscal pressure to benefit from infusions of cash is considering a MOU with the DWP . The latest extension of the Public Comment Period to DWP’s DEIR might be tied to time limits of the Term Sheet that the County has already agreed to . There is forever Major Tom the need for the Planet Blue as I think that you would agree . How can the power of the dollar ever change that view .How did it ever come to that. How can we ever let that happen? The ground is under assault .On the ground there is no control. Can you hear me Major Tom?

      • Shifting Baselines October 30, 2014 at 1:09 am #

        Major Tom, you are mistaken. Solar companies pay higher taxes, land rents and per megawatt costs to site on public lands where they site clean energy projects.

        I don’t know how geothermal compares, but solar pays higher rates per acre than the rates the oil and gas industry is charged by the BLM – which hasn’t changed since the 1920s.

        • MajorTom October 30, 2014 at 11:33 am #


          I was not addressing the rent solar companies pay to the landowners, but the property taxes solar companies pay to the local governments (counties usually) that provide them services. None of the solar power related equipment that is installed in a commercial plant is subject to property tax. So if a power company installs square miles of solar panels on property, the taxes on the property will barely increase, despite the blight the local community lives with and the services provided by the community to the plant and its employees. Property tax is a large source of funds to serve the local population and its businesses.

          It is a huge loss for the local government (and residents) that is not given to any other business, think 2% times a couple hundred million property. (The solar project proposed out by Charlestonview a few years ago was worth more like a couple billion.) If commercial solar power is deserving of such large incentives, the incentives should come from the population centers that need the power, not from the rural communities that bear the costs of providing the power. All other businesses in the county pay their share to support their community – solar power does not.

    • Ken Warner November 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      How/where did common sense get into this blog? Shouldn’t you be flaming someone for something?

      • Joe November 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm #


        We leave the flaming, name calling and lack of common sense to your posts. Thanks for asking though.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.