By Mark Waite
The California Energy Commission issued a preliminary staff assessment Friday that concluded the Hidden Hills solar project could comply with applicable laws and regulations if mitigation measures were implemented.
BrightSource Energy plans to build a 500-megawatt solar power plant on 3,200 acres of private property on the California side of the border along the Tecopa Road, about nine miles due south of Pahrump.
The assessment however noted six technical areas had significant, unmitigated impacts, non-compliance with laws, ordinances, regulations and standards or outstanding issues that needed to be resolved through additional data. They include:
* Unresolved biological issues including impacts to bird life from the solar tower; conditions of certification over the desert kit fox, American badger and burrowing owl; ongoing surveys for 10 special status plants like the milk vetch and field verification of state waters and desert wash plant communities.
* Inconsistency with applicable Inyo County land use laws and goals, which the CEC said would result in a significant impact under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines;
* There’s incomplete information on impacts to worker safety and fire protection due to the lack of comments from the Inyo County Fire Protection District;
* The CEC staff hasn’t come to a determination regarding environmental impacts of the Valley Electric Association power line, which is undergoing review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, it’s considered a “connected action.” Additional information is needed on inconsistencies between the Hidden Hills application for electrical transmission and the California Independent System of Operators CAISO studies.
* The Hidden Hills project “would still have significant and unavoidable adverse direct and cumulative visual impacts.”
Cultural resources mitigation will be included in a supplemental staff assessment that is scheduled to be filed on or before June 15. The Old Spanish Trail Association has voiced concerns over the project and the Pahrump Paiute tribe.
A news release from the California Energy Commission states the preliminary staff assessment is an initial evaluation of the environmental, engineering, public health and safety impacts of the proposed facility. It is not a decision, nor does it contain final findings of the commission related to the environmental impacts, or the projects compliance with local, state and federal requirements.
The project is being located on private land and thus doesn’t have to acquire permits from the BLM, except for a planned transmission line that will connect the Tecopa Road project with the California grid in Eldorado Valley south of Boulder City. But the California Energy Commission uses a similar process as the BLM in evaluating environmental impacts.
Two workshops are scheduled on the preliminary staff assessment including one from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 14 at the Pahrump Community Library and the other in Bishop, Calif. Public comments are being received until July 6, they may be sent by email to <a email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org, he may be reached at 916-654-4894.
The final staff assessment will serve as the CEC testimony at evidentiary hearings conducted by two commissioners reviewing the project. A decision will be based on evidence presented at the hearings, which will be reviewed by the full commission.
The project will require 140 acre feet of water annually, drawn from six existing wells on the property and four new wells. A gas pipeline will be required, which will travel up Tecopa Road to Highway 160, then 26 miles to hook up with the Kern River gas transmission pipeline.
Each of the two, 250-megawatt solar, thermal power plants will use 85,000 heliostats, elevated mirrors mounted on a pylon that will focus solar rays on a 750-foot solar receiver that produces steam to generate electricity.
The capital cost for the project is estimated at $2.7 billion, if approved, construction would be completed by the third or fourth quarter of 2015, the CEC estimates. Commercial operation on the first plant could begin by the third quarter of 2015, the second plant could come on line by the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the assessment.
The project will require an average of 637 workers during the 29-month construction period, with a peak of 1,033 during the 14th month. The company hopes to break ground in 2013. Once operational, it will employ 120 workers.
BrightSource Energy spokesman Kristen Hunter said, “the issuance of the energy commission’s preliminary staff assessment is a significant milestone in the permitting process for the Hidden Hills project. The CEC staff has thoughtfully examined the project and its potential impacts over the past nine months and their initial assessment indicates that impacts can be offset with fair and proper mitigation.”