May 15, 2009

Assemblyman blasts park service interference in solar projects

Pahrump Valley Times

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, fired off a scathing letter to National Park Service Regional Director Jonathan Jarvis, saying Jarvis' objections to building solar power plants on public lands was "totally out of step with national policy to create jobs through clean energy and increase national security."

The letter, dated April 27, said Jarvis' letter to Amy Leuders, acting state director of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, is a "misguided attempt" to influence BLM and U.S. Department of Energy policies.

Jarvis' letter said the National Park Service supports BLM efforts to promote renewable energy. But he added, "The NPS asserts that it is not in the public interest for the BLM to approve plans of development for water-cooled solar energy projects in the arid basins of Southern Nevada."

Solar power plants using water-cooled technology would use large amounts of water, Jarvis wrote. He urged the encouragement of air-cooling and photo-voltaic technology.

Areas with high solar energy potential also are areas of scarce water resources, he wrote.

Jarvis asked the BLM to consider regional impacts of large-scale solar projects on National Park Service facilities like Devil's Hole, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Mojave National Preserve.

Jarvis said affects that should be evaluated include water availability, degradation of visual resources like the night sky, air quality impacts from construction and operations, sound impacts if turbines or cooling towers are used and interruption of wildlife habitat.

"Depending on the location of these projects, large-scale concentrating solar energy projects in Southern Nevada that require large amounts of water potentially face several water rights-related obstacles in obtaining the necessary water for their projects," Jarvis said. "These obstacles are based around several rulings and orders that the Nevada State Engineer's office has issued in recent years."

In particular he referred to Amargosa Valley, where the state engineer ruled the basin is over-appropriated by 18,000 acre feet per year and applications for new water rights will be denied.

Goedhart said state engineer's ruling 1197, issued last November, precludes moving points of diversion for water rights in Amargosa Valley closer to Devil's Hole, home of an endangered pupfish.

But Goedhart added, "Farmers who sell or lease their existing water rights can keep the existing wells in place by piping the water to the solar project site. Indeed some water right diversions will be moved north and away from Devil's Hole, mitigating any current effects on Devil's Hole."

"I personally have spoken to the governor's office, and Nevada will not stand in the way of converting agricultural water to commercial water for the purposes of power generation, a higher, value-added, economic benefit," Goedhart wrote.

Jarvis said the state engineer issued an order holding in abeyance applications for water rights in basins north of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where solar energy projects were proposed pending further studies.

Jarvis quoted ruling 5115 pertaining to that water basin, which states, "The state engineer does not believe it is prudent to use substantial quantities of newly appropriated ground water for water-cooled power plants in one of the driest places in the nation particularly with the uncertainty as to what quantity of water is available from the resource, if any."

"Please note that the deputy engineer does not set policy. We in the Nevada State Legislature, in conjunction with the governor, set policy," Goedhart wrote.

Goedhart said a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed the construction of 2,000 megawatts of solar power plants in Nevada would create $500 million in taxes, 5,900 construction jobs for six years and 1,200 full-time operation and maintenance jobs.

Goedhart said Nevada's economy is struggling with the contraction of gaming, real estate and tourism.

"Any, and I repeat any attempt to override Nevada water law and compromise its sovereignty over the waters of the state of Nevada will be vigorously opposed," he wrote.