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BLM to study solar potential on area east of Barstow

NEAR NEWBERRY SPRINGS • The solar potential for an area about 20 miles outside of Newberry Springs may increase.

The Bureau of Land Management will conduct an environmental impact study on a 26,292-acre parcel of land near Pisgah, about 40 miles east of Barstow. This parcel is one of 24 sites the Department of the Interior designated for solar energy exploration. Depending on the study’s findings, the site may be zoned for future solar projects.

These studies are designed to streamline the permitting process for companies that want to build solar projects on public land, said Greg Miller, renewable energy program manager for BLM’s California Desert District. The BLM identified areas that have minimal environmental or political concerns when setting these parcels aside. It also took into consideration the fact that a company is looking at the Pisgah area as a potential site for a solar energy plant, Miller said.

“These applicants did their homework and knew where the best solar areas were at,” he said. “We just decided that was a good area.”

In designating the parcels of land to be studied, Miller said the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a government agency with offices in Colorado and Washington, D.C., looked at the amount of sun each area gets. Each was rated according to the solar insulation scale, which is the amount of kilowatt hours the sun produces per square meter each day.

Frank Quimby, public information officer for the Secretary of the Interior, said areas that score a 6.5 or greater on the solar insulation scale are considered good for solar energy projects.

Miller said the Pisgah area scored about an eight on the scale.

To determine whether or not a commercial solar project would be suitable for the Pisgah area, Miller said wildlife habitat, geology and vegetation will be studied along with the area’s elevation. If the study determines that a solar project could be too much of a negative impact, BLM may not allow commercial development, Miller said.

Also to relieve some of the work load for local BLM field offices, applications for renewable energy projects in the area will be handled through the California Desert District Office in Moreno Valley, Miller said. This will allow local field offices to focus on fielding applications for other uses such as building and road construction.

“This takes a huge workload off because (renewable energy) is the No. 1 priority across the nation,” he said. “Other folks not involved in renewable energy are perturbed that they’re not getting their application worked through at the same pace.”

Andy Silva, spokesman for San Bernardino Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, said when it comes to solar energy projects in his district Mitzelfelt is concerned with the geographical size of the projects and the impacts they could have on other uses including desert habitat.

“What the supervisor’s been calling for all along is an overall comprehensive look at the (High Desert’s) energy needs,” Silva said, adding that the supervisor would like to explore building these solar energy projects on private lands and lands that have already been disturbed.

“Let’s find the areas of the least impact and focus on those. That’s what the Department of the Interior wants to do with this study.”

The public can comment on the solar study areas by visiting a public forum on the project’s Web site, solareis.anl.gov.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com


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