Inyo County lifts cap on solar projects

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new energy plan which avoids limits on the size of solar facilities.

The vote this week clears the way for solar development in a desert valley that some environmental activists say is crucial to the health of the local Amargosa River.

The board rejected he 20-megawatt maximum size for solar facilities proposed by the county's Planning Commission. That cap would have forced government and industry to rethink the way they developed solar in Inyo County, and elsewhere in California.

The fight over solar has turned into a fight between clean energy advocates and other environmental groups. The newly approved plan has raised concern among the river's advocates that groundwater pumping for solar panel washing could harm both the river and surrounding endangered species, including the critically endangered Amargosa vole, a small mouse-like rodent.

“East County businesswoman Amy Noel, owner and operator of the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort, underscored local opposition to big solar in the stretch of Inyo County east of Death Valley. "I think the Supervisors missed an opportunity to challenge the way solar is done in the state of California," Noel told KCET. "We're not done yet."