A unified, grass-roots effort is credited with gaining an indefinite hold on industrial-scale solar projects threatening Manzanar and the Owens Valley.
By P.C. Staff
LOS ANGELES — In a joint statement on Aug. 3, the Manzanar Committee and the Owens Valley Committee (OVC) announced that two industrial-scale solar energy projects that would have had adverse impacts on California’s Owens Valley and the Manzanar National Historic Site have been delayed indefinitely.
On March 12, 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power withdrew its proposed 1,200-acre Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch from the Interconnection Queue for its Inyo-Rinaldi transmission line, which transports electricity through the Owens Valley, south to Los Angeles.
As reported by Deb Murphy of Sierra Wave Online, a news outlet covering Inyo and Mono Counties, LADWP confirmed that the SOVSR project has been removed from the interconnection queue.
“While DWP worked with the community on interests and options on SOVSR and examined a variety of alternatives for the project (size, specific locations, etc.), the time limit on the transmission service request expired,” said Amanda Parsons, LADWP to the Sierra Wave.
While the SOVSR has been placed on indefinite hold, the proposed solar energy generating facility is not dead.
“The project has been removed from the queue,” said Parsons. “The Department reserves the right to renew exploration into the SOVSR at a later date. LADWP will continue to examine the viability of this renewable project for a commercial operation date estimated to be between 2024-2027.
“LADWP will continue to examine the viability of this renewable project and many others, especially in light of the new state goals of 50 percent renewables by 2030,” added Parsons.
On April 1, 2015, Northland Power/Independence Solar Farms LLC withdrew its interconnection request for the Inyo-Rinaldi transmission line. In addition, the Inyo County Planning Department has indicated that the permit for the proposed 1,200-plus acre Northland project that was slated to be built near Independence, Calif., just north of where the SOVSR would have been built, has been canceled.
Along with Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone tribal organizations and concerned citizens in the Owens Valley, the OVC and Manzanar Committee joined forces to oppose both projects, which would have had detrimental effects on the environment and economy of the Owens Valley. They would have also caused irreparable damage to the viewshed of the Manzanar National Historic Site, where the desolation of the surrounding area is critical to teaching future generations about the unjust incarceration of more than 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry in American concentration camps, such as Manzanar, and other confinement sites, during World War II.
“The Owens Valley Committee is pleased that Northland Power/Independence Solar Farms LLC has withdrawn its application for an industrial-sized solar project near the town of Independence, Calif., and that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has significantly lowered the priority of the proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, adjacent to Manzanar National Historic Site,” the OVC Board said in a statement.
“The recent announcements that the LADWP has delayed the SOVSR, as well as the Northland solar project being removed from consideration, are welcome news,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “It speaks to the effectiveness of grass-roots organizing. The passionate efforts of those in the Owens Valley, particularly the Owens Valley Committee, members of the Paiute and Shoshone tribal organizations, and others, coupled with those of us working to preserve Manzanar, clearly made an impact.
“The blatant disregard for the cultural and social concerns of the Japanese American community, and of the Paiute and Shoshone people of the Owens Valley, by those seeking quick profits was a familiar theme,” added Embrey. “Reminding our political leaders in Los Angeles and in the Owens Valley of this, coupled with our position that massive industrial solar facilities miles from where the power is needed is the least effective path to transitioning off fossil fuels, seems to have carried the day, at least for the time being.”
Embrey hailed the strong relationship that developed between the Manzanar Committee and members of the Owens Valley community.
“The working relationship that developed between activists in Los Angeles and the Owens Valley was almost effortless,” Embrey noted. “We were all on the same page. We simply had to focus on getting our message out and taking our concerns to our local political representatives in Los Angeles and in Inyo County.
“What was important was how those of us from Los Angeles and the Owens Valley immediately took on each other’s concerns,” Embrey added. “It wasn’t just lip service — we all took the threat to the environment, the threat to the Paiute and Shoshone tribe’s ancestral lands and the threat to Manzanar, to heart. I remember at the first LADWP meeting here in Los Angeles in November 2013, seeing LADWP officials looking extremely uncomfortable in front of a crowd of residents from Owens Valley, former incarcerees, representatives of the Japanese American Citizens League, the Big Pine Paiute Tribe and the Manzanar Committee.”
Concluded Embrey: “As former incarcerees spoke of the importance of preserving the environment around Manzanar, and as tribal representatives spoke of the importance of preserving their lands and ancestral sites, it was very, very powerful. In a sense, we all bonded at that meeting.”
With the SOVSR on indefinite hold rather than having been halted, the movement to protect the Owens Valley and the Manzanar National Historic Site must continue.
“It is imperative that all those concerned with the preservation of World War II confinement sites, the Manzanar National Historic Site in particular, and the precious environment of the Owens Valley, remain vigilant,” Embrey stressed. “It is not a time to shift our attention away from the threat of these massive solar projects. We all need to support viable alternatives, particularly expanding rooftop solar in urban areas and expanding policies to encourage sensible renewable energy projects where the power is needed. We need to continue to exercise our democratic rights and hold our elected officials accountable whenever they attempt to place the needs of indifferent corporations above those of the people.”
Said the OVC board: “The OVC supports rooftop solar installations that produce energy to be utilized at the source, not hundreds of miles away. The OVC will continue to uphold the fact that the unique and beautiful Owens Valley is not an appropriate location for industrial development.”
The Owens Valley Committee is a non-profit organization seeking just and sustainable management of Owens Valley land and water resources. It envisions a valley in which existing open space is protected, historic land uses sustained and depleted groundwater reserves and surface water flows restored as Los Angeles phases out its dependence on Owens Valley water. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger.
A nonprofit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.