Stateline Solar Project Given County Okay

(March 12) The county board of supervisors this week held a public hearing at which it certified the environmental impact report for the Desert Stateline solar project, adopting a finding of overriding considerations and approving the issuance of two production groundwater well permits to allow the project to proceed.
The federal government has given go-ahead to Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc.’s  2.6 square mile Stateline Solar Project, which is to be located just west of the California/Nevada border near Primm, Nevada in the Ivanpah Valley.
First Solar’s Stateline project will utilize mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a heating tower to run a steam turbine, thereby yielding roughly 223 megawatts, adequate electricity for 82,800 households.
The project needed go-ahead from the county, as the local land use authority, to proceed.
According to  Tom Hudson, the director of the county’s land use services department, he and his department are relying upon a March 18, 2008 memorandum of understanding between the county and the Bureau of Land Management that he said “established guidelines for an effective, efficient and cooperative process for conducting environmental reviews of proposed projects that are located on public lands managed by the BLM and that may or may not include private land under the jurisdiction of the county.”
Hudson said the federal government had already certified the project as being in compliance with the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and that the county has now looked at the project in terms of regulations and limitations specified under the California Environmental Quality Act, which he said was similar to but in some particulars different from federal regulations and requirements.
“A comprehensive joint draft environmental impact statement and environmental impact report was completed for the project,” Hudson said.
Hudson said the project is deemed to be consistent with the county general plan in that the “county general plan does not impose conditions on public lands, including the project site, so there are no inconsistencies to discuss.” Hudson further maintained that the project is consistent with state goals and objectives. “The project will help California meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard goal, which imposes interim requirements to procure 20% of retail electric power sales from renewable sources today and 25% by 2016. By 2020, utilities must procure 33% of electrical power retail sales from renewables,” Hudson told the board of supervisors.
Additionally, Hudson stated, the project will have a favorable greenhouse gas offsetting factor.
“The energy produced by the project would displace approximately 294,728 Metric tons of carbon dioxide each year that would otherwise be emitted by fossil fuel-fired power plants,” Hudson said.
With regard to visual impacts of the project, Hudson acknowledged that the proposed project is located within an area “characterized by rough, rocky mountains formed by northerly trending fault blocks [and] views from travel routes within the vicinity of the study area tend to encompass broad, sweeping desert expanses bordered by rugged mountain ranges,” which would be disturbed by the project’s introduction of “with industrial character into the foreground and background views from I-15, the Primm Valley Golf Course, the Mojave National Preserve, and the Stateline Wilderness Area.” Given other facilities in the area, including the adjacent Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, Hudson said, “The impact of the proposed facility on the existing visual character of the site and its surrounding landscape would be less than significant.”
Hudson also said that “Construction of the project would have a direct adverse effect on the desert tortoise, resulting in the displacement of approximately 40 adult desert tortoises, and permanently impacting approximately 2,023 acres of desert tortoise habitat. Impacts to desert tortoise individuals and habitat would be reduced through implementation of applicant proposed measures and mitigation measures required for protection of wildlife and other resources.” Those efforts include, Hudson said, reducing potential direct and indirect degradation of desert tortoise habitat, taking efforts to protect the tortoises by relocating them, eliminating noxious weeds in the area that are a hazard to the tortoises, engaging in dust control and taking care with chemical and fuel storage as well as trash disposal.
The project will also have regrettable impacts on the golden eagle, which species has a dozen nesting territories within 10 to 12 miles of the project site. “Seven of the 12 nesting territories were determined to be active during the 2010 golden eagle nest surveys,” Hudson said. “The closest active nest is approximately two miles to the northwest of the project site, near the Umberci Mine. Although no golden eagle nest sites occur within the project study area, the project site is located within foraging distance from the identified nests. Potential impacts to golden eagles would be reduced through mitigation measures required for protection of wild life and other resources. Implementation of the measures would reduce impacts on the golden eagle to less than significant levels.”
Water for the project, Hudson said “would be obtained from two new groundwater production wells; the primary well to be located on the southeastern corner of the facility, and the secondary well located approximately 4,250 feet west of facility. The Applicant has prepared and received approval from the county geologist of a groundwater monitoring and reporting plan, fulfilling the requirements of the San Bernardino County groundwater monitoring program guidelines.”
Hudson prepared a statement of overriding considerations for the project which the board approved. That statement said the project would support the Bureau of Land Management in meeting federal land policy by  serving to “manage public lands for multiple uses that take into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and non-renewable resources” and “support the Bureau of Land Management” in achieving “Executive Order 13212 (May 18, 2001) which mandates that agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management,  act expediently and in a manner consistent with applicable laws to increase the production and transmission of energy in a safe and environmentally sound manner [and] Secretarial Order 3285A1 (March 11, 2009 and amended on February 22, 2010) which “establishes the development of renewable energy as a priority of the Department of the Interior.”
The statement of overriding considerations further states that “The project will support investor-owned utilities in meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard to supply 33% of California’s total electricity through renewable energy generation by 2020 [and] The project will assist the state in reaching the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in Assembly Bill 32 to 1990 levels by 2020, by generating electricity without the use of fossil fuels or natural gas fired generation.”
The statement of overriding considerations also noted that “The project will establish 300 megawatts of generating capacity for emission-free photovoltaic solar electricity in an area of high solar insolation to maximize the use of available sunlight.”

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