When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power distributes their EIR (Environmental Impact Report) for their Owens Valley solar project, they call it a “Ranch.” No doubt they think that makes it sound more palatable to the residents in an arid land where cattle are a primary agricultural product.
When first discussing it at public meetings, the possible green energy project is termed a “Park,” perhaps again trying to make it sound like something of benefit to the families and visitors of the area. This is a place that is called one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
Recently, the Los Angeles Times refers to it as a ”Project,” which is more accurate, when they announce “DWP Solar Plan Moves Ahead” (12/26/13). At the public hearing held by the DWP in Lone Pine there is definite opposition to the project. It will be directly east of the Manzanar Relocation Camp, a National Historic Site on Highway 395 where nearly 10,000 Japanese American citizens were interned by the US Government during WWII.
'Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands' - Display Manzanar Historic Site - 2009
The opposition at the public hearing arranged by the DWP to gather input is somewhat tepid except for a few engaged residents of Los Angeles and one active opponent from Independence, the next town north of the 1200 acre site.
The Times reports, “A 1200 acre facility in the Owens Valley will harm historic site and wildlife, say opponents.” A majority of people favors the idea of green energy to save our planet. A few people simply don’t believe in the economics and efficacy of solar technology. Others are happy with it when it is placed in the desert where there is so much free energy coming from the sun and so few people. There are always the knee jerk residents who immediately say “Not in my backyard.” Others champion the pristine view, respect for the landscape, and argue that other places owned by the DWP would provide better sites.
Displays at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar Ranch - Lone Pine, CA - 9/24/13
As with most issues facing our California deserts today, the answers to the questions that arise are complex and ambiguous and can lead to heated debate. Simply put, both sides have defensible points of view that depend on facts, fears and cultural attitudes. The debate may never end for the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch (SOVSR), just as the debate about water extraction from the same land continues to be an issue one hundred years after the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
We go out to survey the area, on foot and in car, to try to get a sense of how much this 200-megawatt array of black panels will affect the viewscape. I am, after all, a landscape and film historian; that is my number one concern. My initial answer is “not too much.” It is not benign, however, and will scar this beautiful area, more so when viewed from higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, which lie to the west.
Proposed SOVSR site begins near curve in road - Viewed from below Reward Mine - Inyo Mtns, CA - 9/25/13
Manzanar Historic Site is approx 5 mi across valley at thin lines of dark trees
As I live in Lone Pine, this multi-year $680,000,000 project now given the go ahead will be a wonderful case study for us to follow in Desert Dispatches in the months and years ahead. Stay tuned for updates and reports about this project as it moves forward.
I should mention that at first I didn’t see the plant as a terrible blight, and now wonder why here? I thought the DWP could put it in a less scenic area. Then I signed the petition against the plant. Now I find myself confused between the two sides. Studying the plant under construction and as it prepares to come on line will help me better understand my feelings about the “Ranch” as they evolve.
Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (beyond large rock) - Infrared Exposure - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13
Proposed SOVSR Site (flat area beyond large rock) - Infrared Exposure - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13