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Push for 9 large-scale solar projects threaten Death Valley gateway

AMARGOSA — Bureau of Land Management officials have prioritized nine large-scale solar project proposals on public lands near Nevada’s Amargosa River, close to the eastern border of Death Valley National Park.

“The good news is that the BLM placed six of these solar proposals — or about 33,000 acres on what they refer to as ‘low priority,’” says Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “But two right on the border of Death Valley National Park at 11,000 acres have been designated ‘medium priority’ meaning they can easily move forward.

Southern Nevada’s BLM District has more 30 large-scale solar applications pending review. Federal land-management officials have prioritized them as “high, medium and low.”

“High-priority applications are given precedent to process and are believed by BLM to have low-resource conflicts, while low-priority applications go to the bottom of the list due to impacts to sensitive resources,” Emmerich said.

Low-priority applications are sites located next to national parks, in critical habitat for endangered species, highly scenic areas and near rivers.

Six of the large-scale solar applications were determined to be problematic for water resources, sensitive and endangered species, and the viewshed. Solar projects can require up to 1,000-acre feet of water for the construction phase and the Amargosa Valley has limited resources to support the project.

Solar project close to Ash Meadows

These project sites are all located within 15 miles of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which protects 12 threatened and endangered species and 36 endemic species including the Amargosa niterwort and spring-loving centauri. The project would also be located near Devil’s Hole, which protects the rare Devil’s Hole pupfish.

“The plans for new transmission infrastructure have created a solar land rush in the Amargosa Valley,” Emmerich said. “We are happy that the BLM recognizes that permitting all the projects would lead to unavoidable impacts to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge but hope that large-scale solar still will not creep up to the boundary of Death Valley National Park.”

BLM officials have determined that two solar projects — Rigel Solar and SB Solar proposed on the border of Death Valley National Park and near the scenic ghost town of Rhyolite — qualify for medium priority.

BLM is now moving forward on two other solar projects in Nevada under medium-priority status.

Richard Stephens/Pahrump Valley Times Kevin Emmerich
Richard Stephens/Pahrump Valley Times Kevin Emmerich

“It would be a tragic mistake to allow thousands of acres of solar panels to be built right on the border of Death Valley National Park,” Emmerich said. “The projects would ruin the viewshed, use up precious groundwater, and impact very popular backcountry routes. Impacts to wildlife and the tourism economy of Beatty would be unavoidable.”

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