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BLM opens comment period for solar project near Pahrump

The Bureau of Land Management opened a 45-day public comment period on the proposed Yellow Pine Solar Project that would be located about 10 miles southeast of Pahrump and 32 miles west of Las Vegas in Clark County.

The move comes after the BLM released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the environmental impacts of the 250-megawatt Yellow Pine Solar Project.

The document addresses two separate applications that have been submitted to the BLM Las Vegas field office. Yellow Pine Solar LLC initially has applied for a right of way on public land to construct, operate and maintain a proposed solar energy generation station and ancillary facilities, including battery storage, known as the Yellow Pine Solar Facility. GridLiance West, LLC applied for a right of way on public land to construct, operate, and maintain a 230-kilovolt Trout Canyon substation and associated transmission line. These two applications are collectively known as the Yellow Pine Solar Project, according to the documents.

“The BLM actively supports the Department of the Interior’s America First Energy Plan, ‘an all of the above’ strategy which supports energy development on public lands,” Acting BLM Southern Nevada District Manager Gera Ashton said in a press release. “We look forward to receiving public input on the Yellow Pine Solar Project as we continue to evaluate this project.”

Some environmental groups, however, have called on the BLM to delay the comment period in light of the COVID-19 crisis because the BLM will not be able to hold in-person public meetings.

The state of Nevada recently closed all non-essential business for 30 days because of COVID-19 crisis.

Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of the non-profit Basin and Range Watch, said that holding a full environmental review in the middle of a pandemic “is nothing short of irresponsible.”

“How can the BLM expect to get the normal range of public comments in this situation? This only helps the developer. BLM should be suspending this review for three months, not proceeding with business as usual,” Emmerich said.

One of the main concerns expressed by conservation groups has been the effect of the 250-megawatt Yellow Pine Solar Project on desert tortoise habitat. The desert tortoise is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Yellow Pine Solar Project will destroy over 3,000 acres of old-growth Mojave Desert habitat,” Emmerich said. “The area is home to the declining desert tortoise and Nextera Energy will shred thousands of Mojave yuccas and replace them with solar panels. Some of the yuccas are hundreds of years old. The BLM should reject this project due to all the rooftop and built environment alternatives for solar energy in Southern Nevada. Public lands are not solar sacrifice zones.”

Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Projects also submitted their concerns in the BLM scoping report.

Kirsten Cannon, public affairs specialist for the Southern Nevada District, said the the agency “is in the early discussions” to evaluate other options to an in-person public meeting, including a potential virtual open house or a potential extension on the review period.

“If we move forward with a comment period extension, we will determine the amount of time to extend based on where we are in the review period and what the public situation is at the time,” Cannon said in an email.

In the press release, the BLM also said that “alternative ways” to provide comment are also currently being explored. The BLM will announce details of these meetings at least 15 days in advance through public notices, media releases, mailings and on the BLM website.

The Yellow Pine Solar Project would be located on approximately 3,000 acres of BLM-managed public lands. The project’s construction workforce over 24 months would average 200 to 300 workers, with up to 400 workers at peak construction, according to the documents. Following completion, the facility would be staffed by up to 10 operations personnel, according to the press release.

The 45-day comments period ends on May 4, 2020.

Comments can also be submitted via mail at blm_nv_sndo_yellowpine@blm.gov

People looking to comment can also fax their input to 702-515-5023 or mail Yellow Pine Solar Project, Attn: Herman Pinales and address it to the BLM Las Vegas Field Office, 4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130.

Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time, according to the BLM press release. While you can request to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, no guarantees can be made that they will be able to do so.

For more information, please contact Herman Pinales, Energy and Infrastructure project manager, at 702-515-5284.

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