By Mark Waite
SHOSHONE, Calif. — The California Energy Commission will hold four days of evidentiary hearings on the BrightSource Energy solar plant from Tuesday through Friday here at the Death Valley Academy Gymnasium on Old State Highway 127.
The hearings begin at 9 a.m. each day except Wednesday when they will convene at noon.
BrightSource Energy proposes to build two, 250-megawatt solar plants on the 3,100-acre Hidden Hills Ranch, located on the Tecopa Road just across the California state line. The location is about 10 miles south of Pahrump as the crow flies.
Though the project is on private land, BrightSource has to receive approval from the CEC, which goes through a process similar to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in approving projects on public land under the National Environmental Policy Act NEPA .
BrightSource Energy filed its application with the CEC in August 2011. CEC staff issued a final staff assessment last December that said the commission would have to make overriding findings the benefits of the project outweigh unavoidable, significant, adverse, environmental benefits.
The CEC said the project can’t avoid impacts to visual resources — it calls for a 750-foot solar tower and 85,000 mirrors called heliostats — there were also concerns about impacts to birds from the solar flux, historical resources like the Old Spanish Trail and the Pahrump Paiute tribe, impacts to mesquite groves that shelter different bird species and conflicts with Inyo County land zoning.
The CEC will start with an introduction of the project Tuesday, then move on to visual land use issues and hazardous waste. On Wednesday, they will discuss traffic issues, socioeconomic issues, water and soil issues. On Thursday, the discussion turns to biology and the project design. By Friday, the CEC will discuss cultural issues, air quality, public health and noise concerns.
A session was scheduled for Monday, March 18 for an overflow, topics that can’t be covered the previous week, like biology, natural resources, alternatives to the project site, fire prevention and safety are on the agenda.
The project will require 1,000 construction workers at the peak of construction, and 120 permanent workers once it’s operational. A 500-megawatt plant is enough to provide power to 178,000 homes.
Valley Electric Association is seeking BLM approval to construct a power line from the solar plant to Eldorado Valley south of Boulder City to connect with the California grid. Kern River Gas Transmission Company has requested permission to build a 12-inch diameter gas pipeline from Goodsprings to provide power to keep the plant ready for full operation when the sun comes up.
Intervenors in the case include Jon Zellhoefer of Tecopa, The Center for Biological Diversity, Old Spanish Trail Association, Cindy MacDonald of Las Vegas and Richard Arnold of Pahrump. The interested agencies include Nye County Water District, Inyo County, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, National Park Service and Southern Inyo Fire Protection District.
The public may watch the evidentiary hearings by computer or telephone using the Webex teleconferencing system. That can be accessed on the Internet at www.energy.webex.com and entering meeting number 920-889-956 on Monday, 925-846-191 on Tuesday, 923-559-786 on Wednesday, 929-854-883 Thursday and 928-496-882 on Friday. The password is pwd#1516.
The phone number to log in without a computer is 1-866-469-3239.