By MARK WAITE – Pahrump Valley Times
The Public Utilities Commission approved a Utility Environmental Protection Act permit to Solar Millennium to construct two, 250-megawatt solar power plants in Amargosa Valley, in an order issued Feb. 14.
The UEPA is one of the key permits the company is required to obtain to build the project.
“That just tells us to make sure what permits we have to have before we pull a building permit for construction. We start making minor milestones,” said Billy Owens, the Solar Millennium director of project development.
The most important permit was a U.S. Department of the Interior record of decision giving Solar Millennium the right-of-way to 4,400 acres of public land, approved last September.
The PUC noted Solar Millennium, dba Amargosa Valley Solar I LLC, applied to the state engineer’s office to transfer an existing water right from agricultural to industrial and permission to drill a new well for redundancy of supply.
Besides that, Solar Millennium will acquire at least 236 acre feet per year of additional water rights to mitigate the impact of water use.
The company will also contribute $6,000 per year to support three monitoring wells to measure effects of water use on sensitive species at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Devil’s Hole, the PUC said.
Owens said the water rights process has gone well for the company, the state engineer has gone through the evaluation. They’re waiting on Solar Millennium to turn in a business agreement where the water rights would be retired.
Valley Electric Association will obtain the permits to construct, own and operate a 230 kilovolt transmission line from the Johnnie substation two miles to the Amargosa Valley switchyard, according to the UEPA.
The PUC noted Solar Millennium has not yet filed a transmission service request with NV Energy to deliver the output from the plant to either Nevada or California energy markets. Solar Millennium signed a memorandum of understanding with NV Energy but doesn’t yet have a power purchase agreement.
Nevada Revised Statute 704.890 requires the PUC to make several findings before approving the UEPA:
* The project won’t emit greenhouse gases but will use renewable energy as its primary source of energy.
* “The project will assist the State of Nevada in its effort to diversify its economy by exploiting one of the state’s abundant natural resources sunshine and will increase the supply of solar-generated electricity in the wholesale market, thereby providing greater assurance that state mandates in Nevada and California that require the use of such electricity can be met.”
* The project represents the minimum adverse effect on the environment.
* Solar Millennium is in the process of obtaining all the necessary permits, licenses and approvals.
* The project will serve the public interest by employing an average of 650 construction workers during the 39-month construction period; employ 70 to 100 permanent employees; purchase $50 to $75 million in supplies from local businesses during construction and generate up to $30 million in property taxes for Nye County during construction, after the 55 percent property tax abatement.
No protests or interventions were filed. A pre-hearing conference was held March 4, 2010; the PUC decided to cancel a second prehearing conference scheduled for Jan. 10, 2011.
The agencies that filed comments included the BLM Mojave-Southern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council which requested lighting that would allow for dark skies. The Bureau of Water Pollution Control said a review of engineering plans, stormwater permits, onsite sewage disposal and groundwater discharges might be required.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife expressed concerns over the water supply mitigation. The Nevada Division of State Lands inquired about the cumulative impact of all the solar projects and their impacts to public lands.
The UEPA outlined a long list of permits that will be required before the permit will be issued. They include:
* A dust control permit, a stormwater discharge permit, industrial activities permit, groundwater discharge permit and commercial septic system permit from the Bureau of Water Pollution Control;
* The BLM has to approve the plan of development.
* The U.S. Defense Department requires a complex sustainability office review.
* The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires a section 404 permit.
* The Federal Aviation Administration must issue a no hazard declaration and a biological opinion with an incidental take permit.
* The Division of Water Resources must approve water rights for the construction.
* A business tax license is required from the Nevada Department of Taxation.
* A permit is required from the Nevada Division of Forestry for the disturbance of any native plant species or habitat threatened with extinction and disturbance of any wildlife or wildlife habitat.
* The company needs a building permit and a business license from Nye County.
* Nye County public works must approve a drainage plan and an Amargosa Farm Road and access road improvement plan.
The last projection was the company expected to break ground in September. But this week Owens said, “It probably won’t be September. We’re really trying to get it done by the end of the calendar year.”