If it receives final approval, however, the project's small 2.5 square mile footprint will host a giant tower rising 653 feet above the ground, that could project glare comparable to half the brightness of the sun, according to CEC analysis. The tower and its glare will be visible from 737 square miles surrounding the project. The project will be visible from four separate wilderness areas.
|The orange shading depicts the 737 square miles of surrounding open desert from which the Rice Solar power project will be visible. Map from CEC Draft EIS.|
|Similar receiver towers operating in Spain, although these examples exist near the built environment and not land valued for its wilderness qualities.|
The CEC Staff argued that the impact of the project's visibility from such great distances would essentially erode the value of surrounding wilderness areas, which provide a unique isolation from the built environment and allow Americans to enjoy nature in its pristine state. The Staff expressed concern that downplaying the Rice Solar energy project's visual impacts would contradict the CEC's "policy disfavoring hodgepodge development of large solar energy projects and could encourage developers to target renewable energy development in remote and pristine areas. " (emphasis added)
If the presiding member accepts the Staff's recommendation, they will at least revise their approval to acknowledge the significant visual impacts, and issue an "override finding," which is a policy tool used by the CEC to dismiss significant environmental or cultural concerns with the belief that a project's benefits (renewable energy) justify the loss of natural or cultural resources. Alternatively, the presiding member could reverse their decision and recommend an alternative configuration for the project. If the developer chose to use a different solar technology that does not involve the 653 foot tower, such as photovoltaics, the visual impacts would probably be greatly reduced.