Finally…Planning Officials from LADWP on SOVSR!
By Charles James
On Thursday and Friday, two Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Planning Department officials visited selected groups in Inyo County from Lone Pine to Bishop. The groups included local chambers of commerce, school officials, tribal offices, the National Park Service and others to discuss the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Project.
It was good timing considering the visit comes on the heels of the fractious February 26 Inyo County Planning Commission meeting held on the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) just two weeks ago and within just two days of the Board of Supervisors postponing its meeting on REGPA until April after approving an invitation to LADWP to come before it to discuss the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch. They hope the department will also agree to hold a public meeting on SOVSR for local residents.
Assistant Director of Power System Planning and Development, Michael Webster and Yamen Nanne, the Electrical Engineering Associate overseeing the project for LADWP, met with Colin Smith, the acting superintendent of Manzanar National Historic Site and several park rangers on Thursday morning. The meeting was described as cordial and informative, although the park service has not changed its position on the location of the proposed 1,200 acre, 200 megawatt SOVSR. The National Park Service still feels the project will disrupt the “historical viewshed” of Manzanar which is considered an important historical element that conveys the sense of “isolation and desolation” felt by the camp’s Japanese-American internees during WWII.
Later, Webster and Nanne met with Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, Terry McAteer, and other local school officials. According to reports, in response to the Workplace Opportunity discussion, McAteer felt that LADWP should increase the number of solar utility pre-craft trainees (UPCT) and number of local jobs dedicated to the solar project to make it more economically attractive. However, the obstacle to the local training and local employment levels seems to rest with coming to some sort of an agreement with the unions in Los Angeles and what they are willing to concede.
Also on the agenda for the meeting at the Inyo County Office of Education was LADWP’s Energy Efficiency MOU and program to improve energy efficiency at Inyo Schools. LADWP has a similar and very successful program with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In meetings with the chambers of commerce in Bishop and Lone Pine, as with all of the meetings held with local groups, the atmosphere was described as “congenial, forthcoming, and informative.”
Both chambers of commerce had other board members present and according to Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Director Kathleen New, “I wanted a variety of opinions, both pro and con, to be represented, so I invited Dave Blacker, our board chairman, chamber member Jaque Hickman, and local resident Mike Prather, who is active in the environmental community to attend.” Tawni Thomson, Director for the Bishop Chamber of Commerce invited Board members Todd Lembke, owner of New Cali Landscapes, Sean Nolan, the General Manager of the Creekside Inn, and Michael Gervais, a reporter with the Inyo Register.
Little information is known about how the meetings went with the tribal offices, but it was noted that, due to time constraints on the visitors from Los Angeles, they were unable to meet with the Big Pine Tribe. They did say to the Sierra Wave however that they intended to return to the area and will meet with others that they missed on this 2-day trip.
In addition to the SOVSR, the Workforce Opportunities, and the School Energy Efficiency Program, Webster and Nanne also gave an overview of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Integrated Resource Plan that has three main objectives: High Reliability, which includes power reliability, integrating renewables, and flexible power generation; Environmental Policies that reduce Green House Gas (GHG ) emissions, replace coal power and eliminate ocean cooling; and Competitive Rates by maximizing existing infrastructure and providing cost effective business approaches.
Also discussed was LADWP’s the Solar Incentive Program (SIP) which involves the City of Los Angeles constructing and operating solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on its facilities and municipal buildings, encouraging the development of residential and commercial solar systems through its Solar Photovoltaic Incentive Program (SPI) which provides an incentive payment to LADWP customers who purchase and install their own solar power PV systems; and finally offering a Feed-in Tariff (FiT) Program to allow customers to sell renewable energy produced from their own systems.
These programs will be offered to LADWP customers in the Owens Valley as well to help low-income families with their electric bills as well as homeowners, businesses, and schools.
While Webster and Nanne’s 2-day visit was welcomed by those with whom they met and they said that they appreciated the warm reception they received. On the other hand, they admitted that there were questions that they were simply not in a position to address, such as the SOVSR EIR. They explained that LADWP’s Planning Department has a separate division that works on the Environmental Impact Reports, and the one for SOVSR is only at the draft stage, with the final EIR not due until September.
When asked if LADWP would be willing to send a delegation to meet with the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and possibly meet as well with local community members, they seemed optimistic that it was likely that the department would do so. Webster and Nanne observed that, while they recognize that there is some very vocal opposition to the SOVSR project, they also heard a considerable amount of support for the project as well some saying, “I’d like to know more.” They both were really impressed with how well-received and considerate everyone that they met with was and looked forward to coming back.
Finally, Webster said that they would consider putting the presentation they gave to groups on this trip online at the LADWP website and they would also consider an FAQ format to answer as many questions that local residents of Inyo County might have on SOVSR and other related renewable energy projects.