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BLM holds virtual meetings on Esmeralda solar projects

Updated September 16, 2021 - 3:04 pm

The BLM recently held two virtual meetings on two new proposed projects near Esmeralda substation, where officials answered questions from the public.

The proposed projects would be located in the vicinity of the Esmeralda Substation and the proposed 525-kilovolt GreenLink West transmission line in unincorporated Esmeralda County. So far, six solar developers have requested right-of-way grants to construct, operate and decommission seven solar photovoltaic projects on public lands.

Esmeralda Solar Energy Center Project, NextEra Energy Resources: 500-megawatt solar and energy storage project on approximately 8,804 acres of public lands.

Nivloc Solar Energy Project, Invenergy Solar: 500-megawatt solar and energy storage project on approximately 8,635 acres of public lands.

Smoky Valley Solar Project, ConnectGen: 1,000-megawatt solar and energy storage project on approximately 5,128 acres of public lands.

Rhyolite Ridge I Solar Project, 8minute Solar Energy: 600-megawatt solar and energy storage project on approximately 6,368 acres of public lands.

Rhyolite Ridge II Solar Project, 8minute Solar Energy: 600-megawatt solar and energy storage project on approximately 6,810 acres of public lands.

Gold Dust Solar, Arevia Power: 1500-megawatt solar photovoltaic and 1,000 MW battery energy storage project on approximately 17,018 acres of public lands.

Esmeralda Solar Project, Leeward Renewable Energy: 650 MW solar and energy storage project on approximately 8,700 acres of public lands.

The meetings were held in support of the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to permit 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and to achieve 100 percent carbon pollution-free energy by 2035. The purpose of these public meetings was to provide information on the proposed projects and to solicit public input which will be incorporated into applications for Variance Approval as required by the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision.

During the virtual meetings that took place on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, BLM officials addressed questions from the audience about the proposed projects.

Separately, the projects have drawn a mixed reaction.

Basin and Range Watch, a nonprofit group that advocates for preservation of deserts in Nevada and California, expressed concern about allowing large-scale development in the undisturbed desert.

“The BLM may potentially allow nearly 100 square miles of our public lands to be sacrificed for large-scale solar projects,” said Kevin Emmerich, a co-founder of the Basin and Range in an email. “This area is a vast, unbroken section of public lands and contains rich cultural sites, burrowing owl habitat and pronghorn habitat. A buildout of even just half of this much solar energy will cut off public land access for up to 30 years. Using old mine sites, rooftops and energy conservation should be prioritized before so much environmental damage is considered.”

According to the Basin and Range Watch, the submitted applications amount to approximately 63,000 acres or nearly 100 square miles of solar development. The nonprofit advocates for putting solar panels on the already disturbed lands, rooftops and parking lots instead of developing pristine desert habitats.

But some officials in Esmeralda County welcomed the news. Esmeralda is the least populated county in the state and has few jobs, which means a large-scale project could bring more employment opportunities to the area.

Esmeralda County Commissioner Timothy Hipp said he is open to the projects, as the county needs new business, but added that it would need to add a provision allowing to earn tax revenue from the proposed projects similar to how the county benefits from the mining proceeds.

“Unfortunately, after the initial construction phase, these solar projects do not create very many long-term jobs. We have discussed putting something in place so the county would receive “solar proceeds”, but have not voted on anything yet,” Hipp said in an email.

Daria Sokolova is a former staff writer for the Pahrump Valley Times. Sokolova covers public lands, energy and other related topics.

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