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BLM approves Yellow Pine Solar Project near Pahrump

The Bureau of Land Management announced the approval of the Yellow Pine Solar Project, a 3,000-acre installation proposed 10 miles southeast of Pahrump.

The Record of Decision issued on Nov. 6 approves two separate but connected applications submitted to the BLM Las Vegas Field Office. The ROD approved Yellow Pine Solar, LLC’s right of way on public land to construct, operate and maintain a proposed solar energy generation station, with approximately 500 megawatts of generating capacity and ancillary facilities including battery storage, known as the Yellow Pine Solar Facility. The ROD also approved GridLiance West, LLC’s right of way on public land to construct, operate, and maintain a GridLiance West 230-kilovolt Trout Canyon Substation and associated 230-kilovolt transmission line.

These two applications are collectively known as the Yellow Pine Solar Project.

“This project will get Americans back to work, strengthen the economy, and provide 500 megawatts of renewable energy,” said Angelita Bulletts, BLM Southern Nevada District manager. “The BLM is proud to approve this project, which will aid the economic development of surrounding communities.”

According to the information published on the BLM’s website, “the project will facilitate critical infrastructure investments that will create jobs and economic activity and increase renewable energy, helping to meet federal and state energy goals.”

The BLM website said that the project directly advances policy objectives in President Trump’s executive order that promotes “clean and safe development” of America’s energy resources and a separate executive order that focused on “prioritizing infrastructure projects and streamlining the environmental review process.”

Earlier, BLM released a Final Environmental Statement (EIS) for the Yellow Pine, where it analyzed the direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives.

The BLM has identified the proposed action layout using the “mowing alternative” construction method as the preferred alternative, according to the documents. Under the mowing alternative, vegetation would be mowed at a height of 18 to 24 inches to address concerns related to the loss of topsoil, vegetation, and seedbanks.

The proposed action would also involve solar development utilizing site preparation methods that include clearing vegetation to a height of no more than three inches within the solar arrays.

The BLM estimates that nearly 400 hatchling, juvenile, and adult Mojave desert tortoises will have to be removed from the site, Basin and Range press release said. The Mojave desert tortoise is protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act but has seen a big population decline over the last decade throughout its range.

The project has faced opposition from environmental groups and Native American tribes and some area residents who argued that the project would result in a loss of biological diversity and habitat loss for the endangered Mojave desert tortoise, among other issues.

Basin and Range Watch, an environmental nonprofit that advocates for preserving the Mojave Desert, said it will continue to oppose the Yellow Pine Solar Project by appealing the Record of Decision.

“It is continuously disappointing to see the Bureau of Land Management approve large-scale solar projects in habitat for imperiled species. Yellow Pine Solar will impact 4.6 square miles of habitat for the desert tortoise and shred tens of thousands of Mojave yuccas, many of which are hundreds of years old,” said Kevin Emmerich, a member of Basin and Range Watch.

According to the information published on the BLM’s website, in the summer of 2018, the agency received 57 submittals during the 90-day scoping period. During the 45-day public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement, the agency received 90 submissions.

The BLM also conducted government-to-government consultations with several tribes including Moapa Band of Paiutes, Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Fort Mojave Tribe, Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Bishop Paiute Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.

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