Planning Department
County of Inyo
P.O. Drawer L
Independence, CA 92526-0611

The Manzanar Committee, which sponsors the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk programs, and has played a key role in the preservation, protection and creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, is vehemently opposed to any development that would interfere with the operation, goals and purpose of the Manzanar NHS, including forever marring its view shed. As such, we strongly oppose Inyo County’s Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDA), as defined in your 2013 Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment, which would open the door to large-scale renewable energy projects in the Owens Valley.

Further, we fail to understand the logic behind allowing large-scale solar or wind power projects in the Owens Valley, where your mostly pristine, open lands, along with forest areas, beautiful lakes and streams and other outdoor wonders, would be destroyed forever by massive renewable energy facilities. With Inyo County’s economy based on tourism, this makes no sense at all.

You may believe that renewable energy projects will bring increased economic development to Inyo County. But if the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch (SOVSR) is any indication of how wrong such beliefs are, Inyo County must reconsider this position. After all, according to LADWP’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, the project would employ approximately 350 temporary workers, and up to ten permanent employees.

As such, in terms of providing employment opportunities for Inyo County residents, the SOVSR would generate some temporary jobs during construction of the project (LADWP stated it would take approximately five years to finish construction), but no more than ten permanent jobs to operate and maintain the facility. Does that sound like it is worth destroying a huge swath of the Owens Valley, given that, as I stated above, your economy is based on tourists who are attracted to the Owens Valley because of the beauty of its open spaces and pristine lands?

Moreover, should Inyo County allow LADWP to build large-scale solar energy projects in the Owens Valley, water will be needed to clean the solar panels. Where do you think they will get the water? The little rainfall the Owens Valley gets each year will not be enough to keep the panels clean. As such, you can bet they will pump even more of your precious water from groundwater wells in the area, causing even more environmental damage to your county than they’ve already done.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me state for the record that the Manzanar Committee is not opposed to solar energy, or other renewable energy sources. In fact, we applaud Inyo County’s support of projects that would help us move away from fossil fuels. However, the Owens Valley is the wrong place for such development. Indeed, placing massive solar facilities in the Owens Valley is a poor choice while other options exist. In fact, centralized, industrial solar facilities are not a wise use of resources at this time, as centralized solar farms are less efficient and more expensive than distributed, rooftop solar systems.

Distributed solar produces energy directly in the market where it is consumed. There is no need for expensive, massive transmission lines and distribution infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles can easily generate incredible amounts of energy to power its homes and businesses from rooftop solar projects (source: report by Los Angeles Business Council/UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation). Furthermore, by its own admission, the LADWP will pay homeowners in the Owens Valley substantially less than homeowners here in Los Angeles per kilowatt hour (source: LADWP).

Not only would the REDA open the door for such ill-conceived, large-scale development in the Owens Valley, but it would also put a major crimp in the ability of the Manzanar NHS to accurately tell the story of the 11,070 Americans of Japanese ancestry, and their immigrant parents who were prevented from naturalizing due to racist laws, who were unjustly incarcerated there during World War II.

The natural environment surrounding Manzanar is an indispensable element in understanding what those incarcerated in America’s concentration camps experienced. The fact that our government chose to incarcerate over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry—2/3rds of whom were native-born American citizens—and to place them in remote, desolate, largely uninhabitable locations is key to understanding what our families and our community were subjected to. In fact, one of the key reasons Manzanar has been such a successful National Park is that the site, and the surrounding area, was not marred by development, and has remained largely untouched since World War II.

In fact, the very idea that any land in or around the Manzanar NHS could be used for a massive solar energy generating facility would not harm the ongoing efforts to preserve and understand the tragedy of justice that occurred there is simply beyond insensitive, and it’s not just insensitive to the Japanese American community, the survivors of America’s concentration camps and their families. That gross insensitivity extends to the efforts of the National Park Service, and others who have worked so hard to bring this brief, but essential, part of American History to light.

Indeed, not only has the Manzanar NHS been a huge success, but it is also a significant contributor to Inyo County’s economy. Despite that, you would allow large-scale renewable energy development to occur within its view shed? Not only would that severely diminish the ability of National Park staff at Manzanar to accurately tell the story of those who were incarcerated there—as stated above, they would no longer be able to accurately show the desolation aspect of the story, which is essential to understanding it. But to allow such development would also greatly disrespect and dishonor those who were incarcerated there, people who were, in fact, Inyo County residents who expect and deserve much better from their former home.

2014 marks the tenth anniversary of the opening of the visitor’s center at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Over one million people have visited the site since 2000. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Our country has come a long way since 1964, and we hope that as we celebrate the advances we’ve made in the area of civil rights, the concerns of those Americans who were denied those rights simply because of their ancestry are not swept aside and ignored.

We call on Inyo County to do its part by doing everything in its power to protect the Owens Valley from large-scale renewable energy development.

 

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