Dear Supervisors:

Please find comments on the proposed Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDAs) and associated Renewable Energy General Plan Amendments (REGPAs) below.

1) Based on shape files released by Planning Department, using ArcGIS 10.2 (GIS software) the proposed REDA around Bishop is mapped very inaccurately. In the intensive alternative this REDA includes two trailer parks (Lush Meadows, and Shady Rest), a restaurant (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and the entire block I live on (zoned residential), including my house. In the intensive alternative all of the town of Big Pine east of Highway 395 is included in a REDA. Both the intensive alternative and the preferred alternative include the Deep Springs College campus. Mapping errors of this magnitude should be intolerable in a document of this importance and call into question the accuracy of all boundaries of all REDAs.

2) the staff report includes no metadata regarding how it mapped boundaries of proposed REDAs. As noted in comment #1, there are obvious mistakes in the boundaries. The staff should provide metadata describing exactly what source maps were used (so their accuracy can be assessed) to determine REDA boundaries before any further analysis is conducted using these REDAs.

3) Planning Director Josh Hart and Senior Planner Cathreen Richards repeatedly stated at the Planning Commission meeting on February 26 that REDAs represent areas appropriate for development of renewable energy projects. However, according to the criteria listed in the Feb 26 staff report submitted to the Planning Commission these statements cannot be true. The staff report lists criteria for land inappropriate for development and these criteria include, among others, “Sensitive Species areas”, “Cultural and Historic Resources”, “Scenic Resources”, “Manzanar historic landscape viewshed”, and Tie in with economy that is based on non-industrial landscape”. By any one of these criteria, the Owens Valley REDA is not suitable for inclusion. These same criteria should also have excluded several other REDAs. The failure of the Planning Department to consistently exclude land that is inappropriate for renewable energy development based on their own criteria is a fatal flaw which renders the proposed REDAs unsuitable for further analysis.

4) The Owens Valley and Bishop REDAs (in all three alternatives) include DWP land already committed to existing mitigation projects (i.e. the Lower Owens River Project and Land Management Plans) under terms of the MOU to the EIR to the 1991 Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement. The County is party to the MOU and has an obligation to honor its terms. To re-zone these lands for renewable energy development would be an act of bad faith, to say the least, and would also make the county vulnerable to legal challenges.

5) On page 7 of the staff report we read:

“This is likely due to the difficulty in understanding the nature of LADWP land: is it
private or is it public? Jurisdictional issues regarding LADWP land are consistently difficult to understand and process. LADWP land is, on most accounts, treated as public land by the County, but any development proposals LADWP has in the County does need to address existing County plans, including the General Plan”

It is apparent from this passage that the Planning Department is uncertain whether DWP land is public or private. This is an embarrassment to the county. The Planning Department should either determine the legal status of DWP lands or else exclude them from proposed REDAs.

6) Proposed new land use Policy LU-1.17 (Utility-Scale Solar and Wind Renewable Energy Development) should be modified. The sentence,

“Potential social, economic, visual and environmental impacts from solar or wind renewable energy facilities must be avoided or minimized to the extent feasible.”

should be modified to read,

“Potential social, economic, visual and environmental impacts from solar or wind renewable energy facilities must be avoided.”

The phrase “or minimized to the extent feasible” as proposed by the Planning Department opens an enormous loophole, and renders the phrase “must be avoided” meaningless. “Avoided” offers a much higher standard of protection to the county than does “or minimized to the extent feasible”.

This change would not be important if the Planning Department had succeeded in its attempt to define REDAs only in areas appropriate for renewable energy development. However, as noted in comment 3, the Planning Department has failed in spectacular fashion in defining REDAs. As a result several REDAs include some of the most resource-rich landscapes in the county. This guarantees any renewable energy development in these areas will cause significant impacts. The language as proposed by the Planning Department (“or minimized to the extent feasible” ) will allow these impacts to be ignored. My proposed revision will require that significant impacts be avoided.

It is particularly sad to have to make this comment given the county’s repeated failures (three challenges to DWP annual pumping programs) in trying to enforce the “avoid impacts” language in the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA). Apparently the county learned nothing from this experience. The language proposed by the Planning Department (cited above) is even weaker than the “avoid impacts” language in the LTWA which the county has never been able to enforce.

7) The proposed REGPAs and REDAs are offspring of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). Due to the problems noted in comments 1-6, the overall effect of the proposed REGPAs and REDAs would be to turn the DRECP on its head. The DRECP goal is,

“to advance state and federal conservation goals in these desert regions while also facilitating the timely permitting of renewable energy projects under applicable state and federal laws.” (italics added)

Due to the inclusion in proposed REDAS of large areas with obvious resource conflicts, renewable energy developments in these REDAs will generate enormous contention and face every kind of of legal and political challenge imaginable. Consider the enormous resistance to DWP’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch as a case in point. Timely permitting and conservation are the last things these REDAs will facilitate. The REDAs and REGPAs so far proposed can only be described as an enormous waste of taxpayer money because they will have the opposite effect of that intended by the legislature.

Summary Comment

The detailed comments above are just a few of many that could be made documenting fatal flaws in the proposed REDAs and REGPAs. Therefore, it would be a further waste of taxpayers’ money to use these REGPAs and REDAs as a basis for a programmatic EIR. Instead, they should be returned to staff to be redone. Staff should be instructed to apply exclusion criteria just as rigorously as inclusion criteria, with the understanding that this will result in much smaller REDAs (if any at all). Staff should also be instructed that all DWP land already committed to mitigation projects (such as the Lower Owens River Project and Land Management Plans) under the MOU to the EIR to the 1991 LTWA should be excluded. Finally, staff should be reminded that the goal of DRECP requires REDAs to be areas lacking resource conflicts so timely permitting can be facilitated and conservation goals advanced.

This is the most important land use decision facing Inyo County since the City of Los Angeles started acquiring property over a century ago. The various laws and regulations are complicated and it is critical to take the time for your board and the public to fully understand the consequences of any proposed REGPAs and REDAs.

Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely, Daniel Pritchett

Leave a Reply