The Bureau of Land Management prepared a Final Environmental Statement (EIS) for the Yellow Pine, a 3,000-acre solar project about 10 miles southeast of Pahrump, according to the notice published in the federal register.
The final EIS on the 500-megawatt solar energy project addresses two separate but connected applications that were submitted to the BLM Las Vegas Field Office by Yellow Pine Solar, LLC.
Yellow Pine Solar, LLC 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. Also, GridLiance West, LLC applied for a right of way to construct, operate, and maintain a GridLiance West 230-kilovolt Trout Canyon Substation and associated 230-kilovolt transmission line. The two applications are collectively known as the Yellow Pine Solar Project.
The final EIS 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 which include clearing vegetation to a height of no more than three inches within the solar arrays.
Areas within the solar arrays that contain large shrubs, such as creosote bush, would also be tilled to remove stumps, according to the documents. The modified layout would involve one combined project area on the west side of the project study area to increase space between the project and the Tecopa Road, State Route 160, and the Stump Springs Desert Tortoise Translocation Area.
The BLM received a total of 90 submissions containing 512 individual comments, according to the documents.
Key issues raised during the public comment period included potential biological, cultural, tribal, soils, vegetation, hydrological, visual, and recreational resource impacts, fire risk/hazard, project alternatives, project design features/mitigation, and cumulative effects, according to the documents.
The project has faced opposition from environmental groups and Native American tribes and some local 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.
According to the press release put out by Basin and Range Watch, an environmental nonprofit that advocates for preserving of the Mojave Desert, the site where the Yellow Pine is proposed, has recovered from the drought and supports a large variety of Mojave Desert species, some rare and even threatened with population decline.
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 huge population decline over the last decade throughout its range.
“You can see the rings of Mojave yucca stems as they grow outward through the decades on undisturbed soils,” said Laura Cunningham, desert biologist and co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “They grow an average of 2 centimeters to one inch per year and can grow to be over 20 feet tall. It will be an ecological tragedy to watch almost 90,000 yuccas be masticated, bulldozed, and destroyed for utility-scale energy sprawl.”
The BLM estimates that 93,930 old-growth Mojave yuccas are located on the project site – about 30 per acre, according to the Basin and Range press release.
“It is heartbreaking for me as a fourth-generation resident of the area to consider that our precious land and its unique resources are being threatened by the ill-conceived Yellow Pine Solar Project,” said Susan Sorrells, local businesswoman, and owner of the town of Shoshone in eastern Inyo County, California. “As a large solar project located in the desert it is heralded by its financial promoters as a necessary evil to roll back global warming but this is a false narrative. There are much better alternatives like distributive energy that do not deem communities like mine sacrificial zones.”
BLM said it considered comments on the Draft EIS and incorporated them into the Final EIS.
The Final EIS includes the revisions made to the Draft EIS to address the comments submitted, including incorporating recommendations from scientific literature and agency funded research to provide additional analysis and documentation on potential impacts and benefits to soils and vegetation under the mowing alternative, according to the documents.