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Hidden Hills solar project getting mixed reviews

December 22, 2011

County leaders and southeast Inyo County residents are tracking the progress of the Hidden Hills Solar project, which aims to build a solar array on two square miles of land near the Nevada border and produce renewable energy for Southern California. Image courtesy California Energy Commission

Southeastern Inyo County residents are on the fence about a huge solar project proposal near Charleston View, adjacent to the Nevada border.
While many residents have gone on record in support of the project, which will bring jobs to the remote desert communities, others said there are concerns about negative impacts that may be associated with the project.
The Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System proposed by BrightSource Energy, Inc. will be located on approximately 3,277 acres (5.12 square miles) of privately owned land. The project site is approximately 18 miles south of Pahrump, Nev., and approximately 45 miles west of Las Vegas.
Hidden Hills will comprise two solar fields and associated facilities: the northern solar plant (Solar Plant 1) and the southern solar plant (Solar Plant 2). Each solar plant will generate 270 megawatts gross (250 MW net), for a total net output of 500 MW. Solar Plant 1 will occupy approximately 1,483 acres (or 2.3 square miles), and Solar Plant 2 will occupy approximately 1,510 acres (or 2.4 square miles).
As proposed, a 103-acre common area will be established on the southeastern corner of the site to accommodate an administration, warehouse and maintenance complex and an onsite switchyard.
A temporary construction laydown and parking area on the west side of the site will occupy about 180 acres.
According to Sierra Nevada Conservancy resource advocate Brian Brown, the construction phase of the project is one of the concerns being voiced by residents in southeast Inyo County.
“The impacts from construction will be significant,” Brown said, adding that the size of the project will bring construction crews, equipment and materials up Old Spanish Trail Highway. “That old highway will fall apart in weeks,” Brown said.
Brown also said that residents raised concerns about a potential link between wells and springs in the area of the proposed project to the Amargosa River during a meeting held in Tecopa last week.
“The locals, we’re all still trying to wrap our heads around this, there will be 30-40 miles of transmission corridors and a natural gas line coming from the Nevada side, that will be subject to the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act),” he said.
The project itself is being proposed on private property, so it will not be subject to NEPA as the transmission
corridors will. However,
the California Energy
Commission has required that a California Environmental Quality Act review be conducted, giving residents and local government an arena to comment on the project.
The upside to the project, according to residents and proponents, is that it will provide clean, renewable energy to communities in Southern California and will create an estimated 1,087 jobs at the peak of the 29-month construction period, with another 120 full-time jobs when the project is operational.
The capital cost for the project is estimated to exceed $2.7 billion.
In a discussion about general solar policy last week, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors said any solar project in Inyo County, which makes the proponent eligible for property tax discounts, should benefit the county.
Brown explained that before major solar projects even begin, the proponent enters into “purchase agreements” with electric companies and municipal agencies.
In the case of Hidden Hills, Brown said the electricity will be sold to Southern California.
If approved by the Energy Commission, construction is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2014 or the first quarter of 2015. Commercial operation of the first solar plant would be in the first quarter of 2015, with the second solar plant operating in the second quarter of 2015.
For more information on the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System Project, visit http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/hiddenhills/.

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