Inyo County Backs Down on Big Solar

A gorgeous day in the Owens Valley | Photo: Elaine with grey cats/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Inyo County's Board of Supervisors has made a whole lot of people who love the Owens Valley very happy, as it's agreed to remove a large swath of the valley from designation as suitable for large-scale renewable energy development.

The move, made formal in a May 6 vote on an amendment to the County's General Plan that proposed large Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDA), was applauded by locals who've flooded the County with comments in recent months.

The Owens Valley REDA, which would have covered more than 90 square miles of the Valley floor from Independence to well south of Lone Pine, has been especially controversial in that it would have occupied the scenic core of the eastern Sierra Nevada near the foot of Mount Whitney.

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The Owens Valley REDA was also seen as tacit support of plans by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to build a solar project, the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, on 1,200 acres within the viewshed of the site of the Manzanar Internment Camp, now protected as a National Historic Site.

The omission of the Owens Valley REDA doesn't stop the LADWP project, but it is support for the contention that part of the Owens Valley isn't suitable for utility scale solar, or indeed for any industrial development.

"We applaud the Inyo County Board of Supervisors for their decision to remove the Owens Valley REDA from the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment," said Bruce Embrey of the Manzanar Committee. "This is an important first step towards protecting the Manzanar National Historic Site from intrusions into its viewshed. It is also a significant step towards protecting and preserving other priceless cultural sites in the area, and it is a step towards protecting the tourist-based economy of Inyo County."

The county's Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment does still include seven areas designated as REDAs, including one near Owens Lake. But that's down from an original 14 proposed REDAs, which we mapped in an article in February, that would have covered almost a tenth of the county's 10,227 square miles.

And that's got critics of industrial energy development in Inyo feeling grateful, though they're not letting their guard down. "We appreciate the Board's responsiveness, and will continue to remain active to avoid any impact on our cultural resources and open space," said Harry Williams, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe who serves on the Board of Directors of the Owens Valley Committee.

The Amendment to the county's General Plan now begins its journey through the federal environmental assessment process, which gives Inyo County residents and others even more chances to weigh in on the future of solar development there.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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