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Solar project discussion riles Pahrump citizens

The Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee had what may very well have been the biggest turnout the advisory body has ever seen before during its Tuesday, Oct. 12 meeting.

Area residents, and even some who reside outside of the Pahrump Valley, flocked to the meeting to speak out against a variety of proposed solar projects in Nye County, primarily the Rough Hat Nye County Solar Project which, if approved as proposed, would border a portion of the southern end of the town of Pahrump. Concerns voiced that night ranged widely, with everything from the potential impact on the southside trails utilized by the public to the negative effect the project could have on the delicate desert landscape that supports an array of plants and wildlife, some of which are protected species, brought to forefront.

Representatives with Candela Renewables, the California-based company that has proposed the Rough Hat Nye County solar field, were on hand at the meeting as well and they did their best to assuage the angst among the local community, offering assurances that the company wants to do what it can to mitigate the impact of its project to the greatest extent possible. Many in the audience, however, seemed to take these assurances with a grain of salt and there was much mutinous muttering in the crowd throughout the discussion, which took place over a period of nearly two hours.

The Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee, more simply termed PLAC, opened their agenda on Oct. 12 with an item addressing solar projects overall, with member Bob Adams taking the lead. Displaying a map upon a projector screen, Adams pointed out that there are multiple solar fields on the table for Nye County, including several in the Amargosa, Beatty and of course, the six that are aimed at being located to the southeast of Pahrump, which includes the Rough Hat Nye project. “When you take these 3,000-acre plants and put six of them together, you get 18,000 acres,” Adams explained. “That’s a whole bunch of area and if you go up and look at the areas to the north, you can see the areas up at Amargosa junction, they are facing the same issue, and Beatty is facing the same issue of the concentrations of many solar plants together. And how can existing users still have access to the desert, as far as being able to use it? Because you’re ending up with, you know, an almost 20,000-acre roadblock.”

Adams then posed the main question behind the agenda item, asking if the committee would like to address the issue of solar development as a whole. Finding an optimum size and density for such projects is key, Adams said, and working with solar developers to determine how to best balance between their private interests and the interests of the general public is one way to attempt to do that.

“Maybe we can work out compromises,” committee chair Mike Zaman remarked, and the committee appeared to agree, voting unanimously to continue looking into these proposed solar projects.

The committee then opened public comment and though the agenda item was broad in its scope, many of those speaking that evening tailored their remarks to the Rough Hat project, and it was obvious that they were none too pleased that a company was proposing to build a ground-mounted solar field so close to the boundaries of the town of Pahrump.

Local resident Dee Mounts kicked off the public comment period by declaring that she was absolutely opposed to the idea of constructing a massive solar field, be it in Nye County or just over the border in Clark County. “We love our trails for horses, for riding, all of that stuff. We need to protect our way of life, which is the rural community of Nevada,” Mounts declared. Dann Weeks, another Pahrump resident, spoke next, encouraging the PLAC to make the preservation of access to public lands its highest priority. “That should be mission number one,” Weeks stressed. “I’d ask you to remember Dick Carver (former Nye County commissioner). He put his ass on the line, he put his life on the line, to protect the public lands in Nye County. You guys should be willing to do the same.”

Connie Plotkin said she heartily agreed with Weeks before turning to the proximity of the Rough Hat project to Hafen Elementary School, which, as shown in one of the maps provided as backup information, appears to come quite close to the school. Joe Davis took to the microphone following Plotkin, adding his concerns regarding potential effects on the ambient temperature near such large solar fields and remarking that he did not believe it was even possible for all of the country’s energy needs to be met with solar. Kevin Emmerich, a resident who lives near Beatty, expressed his worry about fugitive dust storms that could be caused by the disturbance of thousands of acres of desert land and he suggested the committee look into “solar exclusion zones.”

Public comment kept on coming, with several more stepping forward to announce their opposition to the concept of placing solar fields so near to existing communities or to cite their disquiet about the effect on animal migration, particularly for protected bird species, as well as on desert tortoise populations and the iconic Joshua trees that cover a large swath of the land southeast of the Pahrump Valley. Most said they were actually big supporters of solar in general, but they simply did not believe the projects being proposed were the best way to handle expansion of solar resources.

Members of the public were not the only ones expressing agitation about the proposed solar projects in the Pahrump area either, with Nye County Commission Chair Debra Strickland telling the Pahrump Valley Times she is dead set against any such projects being located within the Pahrump Regional Planning District.

Before moving on to the agenda item specifically geared toward Rough Hat, Adams said there seemed to be a lot of passionate and educated people commenting that evening and the PLAC could use the assistance of some of those people in its pursuit of future solar development regulations to propose to the Nye County Commission. The PLAC has no authority itself but it does have plenty of influence and can make recommendations to the commission, so that its ideas and concepts on those regulations can be considered for incorporation into the county codes.

“We’re looking at who would be willing to work with us and the developers,” Adams said. Strickland, who is liaison to the PLAC, said that was something that could be addressed as a future agenda item. Those interested in being a part of a citizens group to assist the PLAC are encouraged to attend the PLAC’s Nov. 9 meeting, information for which will be made available on www.pahrumpnv.org the Thursday prior to that meeting.

Moving on, the floor was opened to Candela Renewables, with company representatives Dewey Klurfield, Louis Derosa and Jim Woodruff fielding the community’s concerns and committee members’ questions. Klurfield started off by explaining that the company has already invested a significant amount of time and money into the Rough Hat Nye project, which has included reaching out to the community to learn about its concerns. He thanked those who spoke that evening, noting that it is imperative that Candela Renewables be aware of those concerns so they can be addressed, and reiterated multiple times that the company’s intention was to work to mitigate those concerns as much as it could without degrading its own interests in the process. Klurfield then explained that the Rough Hat Nye project would not use any pesticides, as some were afraid would happen. The vegetation, Derosa said, would be kept between one and three feet in height and he noted that in his experience, animals may be disturbed during construction but once the ground-mounted solar panels are installed and operating, those animals tend to return to their former habitat.

The trio also explained that the map provided with the agenda item shows the company’s study area and is not necessarily representative of the exact boundaries of the Rough Hat field, adding that Candela is intending to create some sort of set-back to prevent any visual blockage for residents and will also look at allowing access points through its field so as to maintain certain key trails, such as the Old Spanish Trail that cuts through the study area.

As to access to the site for construction vehicles, Klurfield said Candela had decided that it could not use any existing streets in Pahrump and therefore, it was already working with the Nevada Department of Transportation to build a new road to connect Highway 160 to the Rough Hat site, which would be paid for by Candela. When it comes to the specific acreage that Candela is eyeing for its Rough Hat Nye project, Klurfield noted that these lands, which are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, happen to be located near GridLiance’s planned Trout Canyon Substation, which would allow for easy and cost-effective transmission of the power generated by the solar field.

In terms of dust concerns, the company would be using water to keep down the dust during construction and once completed, they would water the entire site to create a crust they said would in turn help keep the dirt from flying through the air when wind storms hit the town.

“I think that there are ways, with the committee that it sounds like you are going to be forming at your next meeting, with continued outreach to the community, that we can hopefully find a mutually beneficial outcome that the highest number of people can live with,” Klurfield said that evening, later telling the Pahrump Valley Times, “Candela Renewables is committed to the Rough Hat Nye Solar project, which will bring significant tax revenue, jobs, and other community benefits to the Pahrump area and Nye County. We heard the comments from the community and the Public Lands Advisory Committee and look forward to addressing those public concerns through continued public outreach and engagement with Public Lands Advisory Committee. By incorporating public feedback into the project layout and design, we believe that we can address many of the public concerns raised during the meeting, and look forward to continuing the conversation.”

Candela Renewables will be providing a formal presentation regarding the Rough Hat Nye project at a future PLAC meeting, details of which will be included in an upcoming edition of the Times. In the meantime, residents can reach out to Candela Renewables directly by emailing dewey.klurfield@candelarenewables.com

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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