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October 2, 2014

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Public meeting held on proposed Primm solar plant

Residents raise questions about impact on environment, off-roading

Primm

On the fast track to building solar energy in the desert, the only obstacles may be desert tortoises, vegetation and off-road riders.

Those were the three concerns residents raised during the first of three meetings the Bureau of Land Management is holding on a proposal for a 400 megawatt solar power plant NextLight Renewable Power wants to build on 7,000 acres outside Primm. The meeting was held Wednesday night at the Primm Valley Casino.

Other meetings are planned for Aug. 13 at the M Resort, 12300 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Henderson, and Aug. 18 at the Gold Strike Casino, 1 Main St., Jean.

The project is part of 1 million acres of federal land the BLM is studying to open for development of alternative energy. Another round of hearings is planned for Aug. 18-24 on a solar power plant planned for 4,000 acres in the Amargosa Valley in Nye County. Solar Millennium wants to build two side-by-side 242 megawatt parabolic trough plants.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Las Vegas field office has created a team dedicated to renewable energy projects to expedite the environmental studies, which are expected to take about 11 months compared with the usual 14 to 20 months, the team’s project manager, Greg Helseth, said.

NextLight hopes to begin construction next summer, Vice President James Woodruff said.

By breaking ground before the end of next year, the company will qualify for federal stimulus package benefits on the estimated $1 billion project, he said. The plant is eligible for a 30 percent tax incentive, but the stimulus allows that to be provided as a federal grant if the deadline is met, he said.

Of about 25 people who turned out for the first meeting on NextLight’s proposed Primm solar plant, a handful brought up concerns about the impact on the desert tortoise, loss of the area to off-road vehicles and loss of natural desert vegetation.

“This is prime tortoise habitat,” Las Vegas resident Ken Freeman said, suggesting a site that is not as attractive to tortoises might be better suited to a solar plant.

Brian Brown of the Amargosa Conservancy asked whether the tortoises would be removed and to what location, noting that the total 1 million acres in federal land planned for solar power development could have a harmful cumulative effect.

“I do not want to see the desert suffer the death of a thousand cuts,” he said, though he added that the NextLight project was well designed.

Laura Cunningham of Beatty asked whether vegetation would be allowed to remain between the solar panels or whether the entire 2,900-acre footprint where the panels will be placed would be graded.

NextLight engineer Geoff Baxter said the company plans to conduct “micro-grading,” to grade only where a concrete slab will be needed for a solar panel.

“We want to leave as much of the native vegetation as possible for dust control,” he said. “There won’t be mass vegetation removal. It will be as minimal as possible.”

Freeman said he also was concerned about loss of areas to ride off-road vehicles. The site is one of the few in Southern Nevada approved for use by off-roaders, he said.

Helseth said his team was working with the BLM’s recreation specialists to ensure access is maintained to the Lucy Gray Mountains that rim the Ivanpah Valley.

Still, Freeman said after the meeting, the proposal concerns him, because that area is the site of four competitive off-road races every year.

He noted that the NextLight officials said they plan to wash the solar panels twice a year, but with off-road races nearby, they may find they will have to wash them more often.

Eric Record, a fellow off-roader, said he thinks the company will try to coexist with off-roaders but find it too difficult.

“Once they get a taste of one or two events, they may not want to play nice anymore,” he said. “They may ask the BLM to stop the races.”

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