By Mark Waite
Solar Millennium has two years from March to start construction on its project in Amargosa Valley, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Renewable Energy Project Manager Greg Helseth told attendees at the Devil’s Hole workshop last week.
The BLM signed a right-of-way application for 4,500 acres in March, Helseth said. The company plans to build two, 250-megawatt concentrated solar power plants.
“They have a project in California. They’re taking their time to go through the stipulations,” Helseth said.
Solar Millennium has 57 stipulations in their right-of-way agreement, Helseth said. They also have to pay substantial fees for desert tortoise mitigation, he said, at $750 per acre.
The BLM has to write up a four-way agreement between Nye County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service and the BLM, on the water, Helseth said. Solar Millennium will use 400 acre feet of water per year for the dry cooling of the plant; he said the company will also be asked to set aside 236 acre feet of water rights. Nye County has agreed to hold those additional water rights until additional water studies can be completed.
“They’re on the clock, 2013 is when that clock runs out,” Helseth said.
Solar Millennium has yet to line up a transmission line to carry the power. It hasn’t named a power purchaser yet either.
When it came to an update on other renewable energy projects in Amargosa Valley, Helseth said an environmental impact statement is being prepared for the 150-megawatt Pacific Solar project near Big Dune.
“We’re looking at better alternatives for the project, so this project could possibly end up with a notice of intent to do a plan amendment because they’re inside what’s called a SRMS; it stands for special recreation management area,” Helseth said. “If we line up the ducks and everything works out, we could end up with a draft EIS on the streets late this year, if we get things straightened out, with better alternatives.”
Public hearings were held last summer on plans by Abengoa to build a 250-megawatt, concentrated solar power plant near Lathrop Wells, similar to the Solar Millennium project, Helseth said. Abengoa is asking for 600 acre feet of water per year and may retire 500 acre feet of water rights, almost a one-for-one ratio.
“They’re very interested in making sure that they have no impact, or a net positive impact, to Devil’s Hole or Ash Meadows through being able to mitigate water through purchasing and retiring,” Helseth said.
Abengoa also hasn’t been able to get a power purchase agreement signed with NV Energy, Helseth said.
“Nevada Energy at this time has flipped a little bit. Three years ago, Nevada Energy was interested in doing large scale projects. Now Nevada Energy is interested in doing smaller scale projects that are more controllable for them. So we’re seeing the 50 and 100 megawatt projects, more of a leaning toward photovoltaics than concentrated solar, getting through power purchase agreements. We’re seeing a lot of projects like geothermal projects in the north getting power purchase agreements,” Helseth said.
The focus among solar power developers is selling power to California or Arizona, Helseth said. The biggest load for power in Nevada is Las Vegas with 5,800 megawatts, he said. NV Energy is getting close to filling the 25 percent of its portfolio from renewable energy that’s required by 2025, that means 1,700 megawatts, Helseth said. A megawatt is enough to power 250 homes.
The BLM expects to receive a plan of development for a 325-megawatt, concentrated solar power plant north of Pahrump by E-wind Farm, Helseth said.
“They’re looking at the area kind of near the Johnnie herd management area so there’s going to be some issues in there,” Helseth said. “Right now it’s just a plan of development. They’ve got a ways to go before we get into a notice of intent to do an EIS.”
The BLM has the ability to move and adjust plans, Helseth said. He noted there’s bighorn sheep migrations, nesting pairs of eagles and Indian historical sites to consider in the power line routes.
Helseth told attendees the BLM tries to minimize the impacts of solar companies bulldozing the whole area. They also require large amounts of reclamation bonds to restore the property when the plants are closed, though Helseth thought the chances of the power plants being decommissioned is low.