Comments on proposed Renewable Energy General Plan Amendments (REGPAs) and associated Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDAs)

The Owens Valley Committee understands the general need to promote development of renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  However, we think it very important that development be constrained to occur in appropriate sites.  The overall goal of the proposed REGPAs and associated REDAs is to do facilitate development by determining if there are any areas in Inyo County that may contain appropriate sites.

Unfortunately, even a cursory review of the proposed REGPAs and REDAs shows they fail to accomplish this goal.  The failure is due to the Planning Department’s over-emphasis on promotion of renewable energy development at the expense of its mandate to identify appropriate sites.

Evidence of the Planning Department’s over-emphasis on promotion is implicit in the proposed Owens Valley REDA.  The over-emphasis on promotion is explicit in Policy LU-1.18 (Utility-Scale Wind Renewable Energy Development), New Land Use Implementation Measure 2 (pg 39).

The Owens Valley REDA

To identify potentially appropriate sites, the Planning Department used numerous criteria for “inclusion” of land in REDAs, and a smaller number of criteria for “exclusion” of land that might otherwise be included.  At least five of the exclusion criteria   (“cultural and historical resources”, “scenic resources”, “Manzanar historic landscape viewshed”, “tie in with economy that is based on non-industrial landscape”, “sensitive species areas”) require that the land in the Owens Valley REDA be excluded.  Not only was this area not excluded in the preferred alternative, it was not excluded in any of the three alternatives.

Furthermore, most of the land in the proposed Owens Valley REDA is DWP land which is managed according to plans mandated under the MOU to EIR to the 1991 Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement. Management according to these plans is one of many measures required to mitigate the impacts of the second barrel of the LA Aqueduct.  The Planning Department is aware of these plans and even mentions them.  However, it fails to mention in its report that industrial-scale energy development is antithetical to the goals of the plans.  These management plans alone, quite apart from the “exclusion” criteria cited above, should have removed the proposed Owens Valley REDA from consideration.

Finally, quite apart from the exclusion criteria which should have eliminated consideration of the Owens Valley REDA, the public was invited to mark specific areas on maps as suitable or unsuitable for inclusion in REDAs.  As documented on page 32, no one marked the proposed Owens Valley REDA as suitable, while 4 people marked it as unsuitable.

The fact that the Planning Department ignored five of its stated exclusion criteria, ignored conflicts with existing land management plans which are mitigation for the second barrel of the LA Aqueduct, and ignored direct public comment all are evidence of the Planning Department’s over-emphasis in promotion of energy development at the expense of constraining it to appropriate sites.

Policy LU-1.18 (Utility-Scale Wind Renewable Energy Development), New Land Use Implementation Measure 2

This measure states:

The County shall consider seeking compensation for the loss of revenues from

potential renewable energy facilities that are not developed due to possible impacts

on military readiness, special status species, and aesthetics, and/or other barriers to

development of appropriate renewable energy facilities. Methods of compensation

include but are not limited to Payment-in-lieu of Taxes (PILT) or similar programs.

Measure 2 is an admission of failure in the definition of REDAs.  This is because Measure 2 presupposes the existence of special status species resources, aesthetic resources, lands necessary for military readiness etc… in REDAs.  However, the whole point of defining REDAs in the first place is that they are intended to denote areas where exclusionary criteria such as sensitive species and high aesthetic values are not found.  By writing Measure 2, which presupposes a conflict between natural resources and energy development in REDAs the Planning Department admits it did not consistently apply its own exclusion criteria in defining REDAs.  In other words, it failed to accomplish its objective.

While Measure 2’s presupposition of conflicting values within REDAs is admission of failure, the intent of the measure itself demonstrates remarkable bias by the Planning Department in favor of development at the expense of natural resources.  Measure 2 is an open attempt to intimidate parties from exercising their rights under the California Environmental Quality Act to challenge energy development in inappropriate areas.  By encouraging the county to seek compensation from plaintiffs who successfully challenge inappropriate development, Measure 2 encourages the county to penalize parties for protecting the county’s own resources. Rather than penalizing parties for protecting county resources, the county should be offering them compensation!   It is not the role of the Planning Department to try to undermine the public’s CEQA rights, and the fact that the Planning Department is openly attempting to do so is a flagrant example of pro-development bias.

Conclusion

The demonstrated over-emphasis of the Planning Department on promotion of energy development in the case of the Owens Valley REDA, and the overt bias in the proposed General Plan Amendment Policy LU-1.18 Measure 2 discredit the entire document.  The county would benefit far more from having no Renewable Energy Plan Amendments at all than having ones developed in such a flawed process.  We respectfully request you reject the proposed amendments and associated REDAs.

 

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