PUC endorses Amargosa Valley solar project

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission Wednesday approved without comment a permit for the proposed 110-megawatt Amargosa Valley solar plant.

FirstSolar, dba Sunshine Valley Solar LLC, filed with the PUC an application for a Utility Environmental Protection Act permit May 28, asking for authorization to begin construction. The project is scheduled to be built on 745 acres of private land in Amargosa Valley. It will connect with a Valley Electric Association substation via a half-mile long, 138-kilo-volt line. The project is expected to create 310 construction jobs, which the application states will be drawn from the local community as much as possible, but only eight permanent employees will be hired for operation and maintenance.

A memorandum from PUC Electrical Engineer Jason Woodruff said Sunshine Valley Solar still has to obtain a Nevada Department of Wildlife special purpose permit, a Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Pollution Control surface area disturbance permit, an NDEP Bureau of Water Pollution Control holding tank general permit, a Nevada Division of Water Resources permit for temporary appropriation of water during construction; a Nye County Public Works encroachment permit, temporary sign permit and grading and drainage permit, as well as filing an emergency response and hazardous materials protocol plan with the Amargosa Valley Fire Department.

The application states Sunshine Valley Solar expects to use 300 acre feet of water during construction for dust control and soil compaction, which will be acquired using existing water rights on a temporary basis.

The PUC report said 11 possible impacts on the environment were evaluated in the environmental statement, but Woodruff concluded, “with certain mitigation measures in place the ES determined that no adverse impacts are anticipated as a result of the project.”

The plant won’t emit greenhouse gases, using renewable energy, which means the commission isn’t required to determine the extent the project is needed to ensure reliable service to customers in the state. The photo-voltaic technology is considered less risky than alternatives like solar thermal plants and concentrating PV plants, where financing is more difficult to obtain, Sunshine Valley Solar states.

The PUC did require a technical drainage study approved by Nye County; a pre-construction survey and fencing to prevent desert tortoise mortality. Sunshine Valley Solar will be required to take appropriate measures if any cultural or historic artifacts are uncovered during construction.

Sunshine Valley Solar did file with the PUC a consultation technical assistance letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the Endangered Species Act, which concurred no special purpose permit is required for the desert tortoise. They also included a payment to the NDOW cost recovery fund and their Nye County development agreement.

The company plans to incorporate measures to reduce night lighting, after a request from the Nevada Division of State Lands over “dark sky” lighting practices.

Kevin Emmerich of Beatty voiced concerns over bird deaths and dust but the PUC said no comments were received from the respective agencies, the fish and wildlife service or NDOW, on the bird issue or from the NDEP Bureau of Air Pollution Control on dust control.

The fish and wildlife service did send a letter July 22 expressing concerns for the Yuma clapper rail, a water bird that lives on the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, eight miles southeast of the project.

“USFWS believes incidental taking of a Yuma clapper rail is likely given the close proximity of the project site to the refuge,” Woodruff wrote.

The USFWS recommends First Solar consider developing a habitat conservation plan for an incidental take permit of a Yuma clapper rail and develop a bird and bat conservation strategy to describe action to avoid impacts to migratory birds. Sunshine Valley Solar said it would incorporate design measures to minimize the risks to migratory birds and would work with the fish and wildlife service and wildlife agencies to determine the possible causes of bird mortality.