|The Spring Mountains in the distance are the most dominant feature of this mostly intact desert valley. It would be nice to avoid further human competition with this beautiful landscape, including 750-tall power towers.|
In comments to KCET writer Chris Clarke, BrightSource indicated that it may submit a new application with an energy storage capability. The company probably would face an uphill battle with such an application on the California side of the Pahrump Valley because Inyo County has implemented a new land use plan that prohibits solar power tower projects. Both the Inyo County plan and the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan would allow large-scale photovoltaic projects on the California side of the border, although there are no imminent plans for such projects.
However, BrightSource does have a dormant proposal to use thousands of acres of public lands on the Nevada side of the Pahrump Valley, according to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) records. The company submitted a $75,000 fee to the BLM in 2012 essentially staking claim to these public lands. The company could use this Nevada parcel to build its renewed solar power tower application with energy storage once it submits plans and goes through environmental review. According to the BLM's draft Resource Management Plan amendment for the southern Nevada area, the BrightSource parcel would be in an area where the BLM would still consider solar applications.
|A BLM photo submitted to the California Energy Commission shows evidence of subsidence in the Pahrump Valley - the land lowering significantly as a result of groundwater pumping for agricultural and residential purposes.|
Transmission a Key Constraint
However, any large-scale projects here likely will require progress in the Valley Electric Association's (VEA) proposal to build a new transmission line connecting the Pahrump Valley to the El Dorado substation over 50 miles away near Searchlight. The BLM had begun an environmental review for the project, although it appears it has since stalled with the suspension and now cancellation of the Hidden Hills solar project. Either way, a new power plant in the Pahrump Valley will also need to ensure the success of this transmission line application and a power purchase agreement with a California utility. The VEA, although based in Nevada, is part of the California transmission grid.
The necessity of the transmission line underscores the absurdity of such remote, utility-scale solar projects. Smaller photovoltaic projects on rooftops or over parking lots could feed clean energy to the nearby town of Pahrump, or the city of Las Vegas. But instead, developers would scrape clean thousands of acres of desert to ship energy across hundreds of miles of transmission lines to reach customers in faraway Los Angeles or San Francisco. We are a long way off from sanity in how we generate and consume energy, and the Pahrump Valley can still look a lot different if corporations get their way. BrightSource's withdrawal of the Hidden Hills application is a welcome relief for conservationists and advocates for responsible renewable energy, but there will be more battles ahead in our effort to protect public lands and open space in the Pahrump Valley from unnecessary destruction.