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Residents don’t show concerns over latest Amargosa solar proposal

AMARGOSA VALLEY — A crowd of local residents turned out for a recent meeting on a proposed 65-megawatt photovoltaic plant by First Solar, but only a couple of people went up to the microphone to express concerns.

Melanie Falls, in charge of project development, said First Solar is the largest manufacturer of photovoltaics in the world and has seven gigawatts of power installed. Local residents were apparently put at ease with the newest project because the project will have less visual impact, not require much water and be farther from the center of town than the previous solar thermal proposal from Solar Millennium.

Unlike Solar Millennium, Falls said First Solar already has power purchase agreements with large utilities in Nevada and California. The company has 500 megawatts of solar photovoltaic production in Nevada alone, she said. The Copper Mountain and Silver State North projects are already completed near Primm and Boulder City, while Copper Mountain 2 is under construction and Silver State South is in the development stage. In Calfornia, First Solar is building the largest solar plants in the world, 550 megawatts each, the Desert Sunlight project at Desert Center in Riverside County and the Topaz solar farm on the Carrisa Plains in San Luis Obispo County.

“Our technology is solar photovoltaic, which is exactly the same as panels on a rooftop,” Falls said. “I think that the reason we have been as successful as we have been is because we have a greener product to offer. Our power plants have relatively low impact on the surrounding land use.”

The maximum height of any of the structures will be only 13 feet, Falls said. The thin film cadmium telluride photovoltaic panels won’t require any water to produce electricity, she said. Falls said they will be black to absorb electricity with half the reflectivity of normal glass and there will be minimal night lighting.

“The difference between our technology and solar thermal technology is our technology takes sunlight and converts it directly into energy. There’s no use of water to create electricity. There’s no use of flammable oils to create energy,” Falls said.

“The impact on the property itself is quite minimal. The way we install these panels, they are put on top of posts that are driven into the ground. There’s no concrete foundations. So at the end of its life we can remove the poles, remove the panels, remove these structures and the land can revert to its previous use,” Falls said.

First Solar will locate the project on 745 acres of private land. The company doesn’t anticipate having any of the project on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property. It will be enough clean energy to power up to 17,000 average Nevada homes, she said, adding a conventional gas-powered plant with the same power output would generate the same emissions as 22,000 cars on the road.

First Solar was attracted to the Amargosa Valley site due to its good solar radiation, flat topography, a location near an existing transmission substation and its distance away from areas of environmental concern like Death Valley National Park and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Falls said.

Falls said the project is estimated to create 200 construction jobs over a six- to 12-month time frame, once operational there will up to five permanent jobs.

On average First Solar hires 75 percent of their construction workers from local communities, she said. Construction workers will earn 175 percent of the statewide average hourly wage.

Falls admitted some residents may wonder why the company isn’t expecting to begin construction until 2015. That’s to allow plenty of time for what permitting is required, such as drafting a development agreement with Nye County. That’s supposed to be brought to county commissioners in December, she said. Operations are expected to begin by December 2016.

Only two residents expressed some concerns.

Michael Simpson, 277 W. Mecca Road, asked whether the sun heating the panels would cause the heat to rise in that area. He asked whether the site would be fenced.

Bob Little said he lived in the area and wondered whether someone would fix the roads after all the truck traffic.

Amargosa Valley town board member Doc McNeely said road issues will be addressed in the development agreement.

Darrell Lacy, Nye County interim community development director, said “the development agreement process is voluntary. The program allows us to negotiate with the developer to identify and mitigate impacts on the community. The voluntary process is a process where Nye County attempts to hold their feet to the fire, creating certain things in the negotiated agreement that are beneficial on both parties, that are binding on both parties.”

Amargosa Valley residents will have opportunities in the future to address county commissioners about the project, Lacy said. McNeely said the town board will also send information out to the residents and have another meeting soliciting public input.

At the Sept. 12 special meeting McNeely noted there was “an awful, agreeable group here tonight.” In fact the presentation and public comment was wrapped up in a half hour, for a meeting that was scheduled to last three hours. Representatives of First Solar and from the county’s economic development contractor BEC Environmental mingled with the crowd afterwards.

“At this stage we’re not expecting any major issues or concerns. We want to make sure we have identified all the impacts at this meeting,” Lacy said.

Another company, Pacific Solar, is interested in building a solar photovoltaic project at the site planned for the Solar Millennium project. Nancy Christ, BLM acting renewable energy project manager, said it will be a 300-megawatt project.

Pacific Solar originally intended to build a 150-megawatt solar plant in stages near Big Dune, but Christ said they ran into environmental issues with the endangered beetles and the recreational zone.

The BLM has to wait until the period expires for Solar Millennium to show some due diligence on their project, before making the site available, Christ said. Pacific Solar will have to submit a plan of development which will show the acreage involved, she said.

Pacific Solar will still have to go through the National Environmental Policy Act process in getting their permit, as the BLM has to take into account the new technology.

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