By Mark Waite
A supplement to the programmatic environmental impact statement for the solar industry threatens to undermine and even halt the industry, county officials noted in a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The EIS identifies solar energy zones, including a site in Nye County 11 miles south of Beatty, that has now been reduced from 31,625 acres to 8,479 acres out of concern for Death Valley National Park and the desert tortoise.
Two sites were identified in Esmeralda County, two miles north of Gold Point and the Millers solar energy zone 15 miles west of Tonopah.
No solar developers are making use of the Nye County site.
Counties would have to apply for a variance to locate projects on public land outside those zones. That request would be processed on a five-year basis for inclusion in the BLM resource management and land use plans.
“The programmatic EIS is supposed to support and encourage renewable development. The way it’s coming out, it will add additional hurdles to any developer that wants to build here. It’s frustrating from my perspective, we’ve been working so hard and so long to get developers into Nye County and this will slow them down,” Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office Director Darrell Lacy said.
County commissioners Tuesday approved the letter to Argonne National Laboratory.
The Nye County letter states “the county is gravely concerned the PEIS and supplement will undermine and even halt solar energy development in Nye County and the southwestern region at a time when development of solar resources is a priority.”
The county states the solar energy zones are based on state by state evaluations, not on competitive resource energy zones.
Nye County states the zones don’t take into account federal, state and local planning, such as the governor’s New Energy Industry Task Force, the Renewable Energy Transmission Access Advisory Committee, the Nevada Energy Assistance Corporation Renewable Energy Corridors, the Valley Electric Association plans to join the California Independent System of Operators, the NV Energy Renewable Transmission Initiative and the five-county Brownfields Coalition to identify renewable energy sites on contaminated lands.
The reduction in the Amargosa Valley solar energy zone should be offset by identification of an alternative, solar energy zone in Nye County, like Arizona and California have done, the county requests, in a letter signed by Chairman Lorinda Wichman. Areas identified by the BLM for disposal in resource management plans should be equivalent to solar energy zones, it adds.
Counties should be able to identify solar energy zones they want in their land-use plans filed with the BLM, the letter states, a suggestion endorsed by Commissioner Gary Hollis at the meeting.
Nye County land is 92 percent under federal control. If alternate sites are adopted, it is imperative for the economic viability of the county that an efficient and effective process of identification of solar sites be implemented, the county’s letter states.
Existing right-of-way applications, for projects like the Solar Millennium 4,600-acre site on Farm Road in Amargosa Valley for two, 250-megawatt solar power plants, the Abengoa Solar application for 5,336 acres near Big Dune for a 150-megawatt solar plant and Pacific Solar’s application for land at Lathrop Wells for a 110-megawatt project, will be grandfathered into the regulations.
But county officials say if those projects don’t develop, there is no provision for keeping their status as grandfathered sites.
“The additional regulatory requirements imposed by the proposed variance process for lands not in an SEZ or exclusion zone will add cost and uncertainty to the development process,” the county letter states.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of the Interior is inserting itself in the control of water issues through changes in the National Environmental Policy Act, the county states, which is normally the state engineer’s purview, in a violation of state’s rights that invites the possibility of lawsuits.
The county advocates a no-action alternative instead of a plan that adds redundant regulatory requirements and increases barriers to solar development.
Nye County was granted cooperating agency status in the drafting of the programmatic EIS in a memorandum of understanding approved in October 2009. The EIS will address solar development in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in a statement in October, 2011, said the supplement to the EIS reinforces and improves upon the Department of Interior’s work to establish meaningful solar energy zones with transmission solutions and incentives for solar energy development within those zones.
The supplement sets forth a description of the process for identifying zones analyzing transmission availability and potential resource conflicts, the secretary said.
The DOI says that in two years, 22 major renewable energy projects were approved, including 13 commercial-scale solar energy facilities that combined will create 8,600 construction and operational jobs and produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.5 million homes.