September 20, 2009

BLM tackles plethora of solar, wind project applications

Staff sequestered in Desert Discovery Center

By JESSICA CEJNAR, staff writer
Barstow Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • Biologists, realty specialists and air and water experts with the Bureau of Land Management shut themselves in the Desert Discovery Center for 10 full working days wading through a plethora of solar and wind energy applications.

Out of more than 25 solar and 20 wind project applications proposed for the Barstow area, staff at the local field office were able review 17, said Mickey Quillman, chief of resources at the BLM’s Barstow office. Some of these projects were submitted almost a year ago, Quillman said, and have languished while staff have focused on other BLM business. He sent his staff to the Desert Discovery Center two weeks ago, he said, to get away from the telephones and focus solely on the project applications.

“There are so many other things that are going on in the office, we don’t have the staff to work on these things full time,” he said.

According to Quillman, BLM staff review a project’s design as well as the number of acres needed to build the project. If an application doesn’t include all the necessary documents, the BLM sends the company a letter stating what it needs to do to move its project forward, Quillman said.

Companies are given between 30 and 60 days to respond to those letters depending on how much information is needed, said Greg Miller, renewable energy program manager for the BLM’s California Desert District. If it receives no response another letter is sent, he said. After 15 to 20 days of no response from a company, the BLM may reject or deny its application, Miller said.

Solar and wind projects are scattered throughout the 3.1 million acres of land the Barstow Field Office oversees, Quillman said. Even though he didn’t want to say which companies are further along in the application process than others, Quillman said Granite Wind, a wind project between Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley has progressed into the notice of intent to do an environmental impact study phase.

“There’s another solar plant we’re looking at that’s getting close to there,” he said.

Even though his staff was shut up for 10 days, focusing only on renewable energy projects, Quillman says he gets more applications on a regular basis. He may even order his staff to be sequestered again, he said.

“When the alternative energy projects came in it was added work load and we couldn’t focus on those as we needed to,” he said. “We had 25 solar and almost as many wind and as those (applications) come in we’ll review those as well. It’s an ongoing process.”