|Crescent Dunes: NWP's comments|
October 18th, 2010
Timothy Coward, Renewable Energy Project Manager
BLM Tonopah Field Office P.O. Box 911 Tonopah, NV 89040
Re: Comments on the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement
Dear Mr. Coward:
Please accept and fully consider these comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project (CDSEP) on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Nevada Wilderness Project and the Toiyabe Chapter Sierra Club.
Clearly, our nation’s growing addiction to fossil fuels, coupled with the unprecedented threats brought about by global warming, imperil the integrity of our wildlands as never before. To sustain both our wildlands and our human communities, the undersigned believe the nation must transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. To do this, we must eliminate energy waste, moderate demand through energy efficiency, conservation, and demand-side management practices, and rapidly develop and deploy clean, renewable energy technologies, including at the utility-scale. Renewable energy development is not appropriate everywhere on the public lands, however, and thorough review under the National Environmental Policy Act is an essential part of determining which of the many proposed utility-scale projects should be permitted to go forward.
We strongly believe that long-term, environmentally responsible success of the Bureau of Land Management’s solar energy program depends on developing policy and guidelines that guide projects to the most appropriate locations, thus limiting environmental impacts and reducing obstacles to construction of the most appropriate projects. We are submitting these comments in the hope that CDSEP can be one of those projects.
I. Summary of Findings
Our review of the DEIS revealed several important potential public benefits from the development of CDSEP. These potential benefits include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, helping meet Nevada’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), and creating new jobs and tax revenues. In addition, the BLM should be commended for the format of their public meetings for CDSEP. These meetings included a presentation on CDSEP from the BLM and the project applicant, Tonopah Solar Energy (TSE), a subsidiary of Solar Reserve. The meetings also allowed participants to ask questions during a group question and answer session.
This review identified three key issues for additional consideration and evaluation.(1) The first is the need to provide the public with more detailed information on mitigation as well as the actual mitigation plans mentioned in the DEIS. Though there are details in some sections, the DEIS notes in numerous places that plans are being developed, but does not provide any details on the content of those plans. Clarification of these issues will enable the public to better understand the potential impacts of CDSEP and the associated mitigation measures being proposed as well as providing additional certainty for TSE.
The BLM should 1) provide these plans to the public for comment as soon as they are finalized, and certainly before the publication of the Final EIS; 2) specify which mitigation measures will be required as terms and conditions in the Record of Decision (ROD); and 3) examine opportunities to offset unavoidable impacts on the project site with off-site mitigation.
The second key issue requiring additional consideration and evaluation is the analysis of cooling options in the DEIS. We appreciate that TSE is proposing hybrid cooling rather than wet cooling. However, Nevada is an arid region of the country, water is critical to its future, and groundwater is already being depleted by numerous uses. Analysis of dry cooling in the DEIS is inadequate, and the BLM should provide further analysis of the potential economic and technical viability of dry cooling, including potential impacts of dry cooling to the levelized cost of electricity, the annualized electrical production, and the capital cost of CDSEP, as well as the potential benefits to natural resources of using dry cooling.
The third key issue is cultural resources and Native American religious concerns. It is not clear if the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has had an opportunity to review and comment on the BLMs findings of eligibility of the cultural resources. It is also unclear whether mitigation plans exist for existing properties recommended eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (eligible sites) and Native American religious concerns on the alternative sites. The BLM should continue to consult with interested Native American tribes about the project and any concerns they may have and clarify if a plan for alleviating issues has been developed to the satisfaction of all interested parties. The BLM should also make clear whether the SHPO has had an opportunity to review the Class III archaeological inventory and concurs with the determinations made by the BLM, as well as detailing a plan for avoidance of eligible sites found outside of the Preferred Alternative. Finally, the BLM should mandate education of the workers on the importance of avoiding cultural sites and artifacts and provide rules for areas not within the work area.
Additional issues to be considered are included in Section VIII.
1 We understand that BLM and TSE are working under a schedule tied to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (requiring projects to break ground or take other action by December, 2010). Our recommendations are not intended to jeopardize this schedule. We believe that there is sufficient time to publish the documents recommended in Section V of these comments (this should not be an additional burden, as BLM should be finalizing these documents as part of the development of the Final EIS anyway) and provide an opportunity to comment.
II. Preferred Alternative
Note that the BLM’s Preferred Alternative in the DEIS is not the Proposed Action, but rather Alternative 2 (p. 2-71). It is our understanding based on personal communication with TSE that Alternative 2 is also TSE’s Preferred Alternative. We agree that Alternative 2 has the least resource impacts. We support Alternative 2 as the Preferred Alternative, and these comments are focused on Alternative 2.
Recommendation: The BLM should carry forward Alternative 2 as the Preferred Alternative.
III. Potential Public Benefits from SSEP
a. Greenhouse gas emissions reductions
The CDSEP offers the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to electricity production during its 30 year lifetime by avoiding electricity production and associated greenhouse gas emissions at highly polluting fossil fuel plants. The CDSEP is expected to produce approximately 485,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of no-emissions electricity annually, (p. 1-72) enough to power over 40,000 homes.3
b. Helping meet Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard
The State of Nevada has passed a RPS rule requiring that the investor-owned utilities generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by the year 2025 (p. 1-7). The CDSEP could help the utilities reach the RPS goals.
c. Local economic benefits
The CDSEP would provide the opportunity for local economic benefits including creation of jobs and the addition of personal income to the State of Nevada. The DEIS states that during construction, “through direct, indirect and induced impacts during the peak of construction, approximately 1,500 jobs would be created, $140 million of personal income would be added to the State of Nevada annually, and $160 million would be added to the gross state product annually.” (p. 4-87) During operations and maintenance, the DEIS states that “through direct, indirect and induced impacts during operations and maintenance of the facility, approximately 200 jobs would be created, $30 million of personal income would be added to the State of Nevada annually, and $22.7 million would be added to the gross state product annually.” (p. 4- 87)
IV. Relative Suitability of the CDSEP Site
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all page references are for the DEIS. 3 Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2008, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,040 kWh (available at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/ask/electricity_faqs.asp#electricity_use_home)
a. Characteristics conducive to utility-scale solar development
Tonopah Solar Energy seems to have identified a site with excellent solar resources, close to existing transmission and other infrastructure, and with limited conflicts with biological and other resources. Further, the site does not contain any officially designated sensitive and protected areas such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, nor has been it been proposed by citizens for designation as wilderness or other conservation status. The efforts of TSE to identify a good site should be generally commended.
b. Potential impacts to important resources
There are natural resources that will be impacted by construction of a utility-scale solar plant on the site, as would be expected for industrial development on any intact 1,628-acre parcel of desert. Chapters 3 and 4 of the DEIS detail potential impacts from CDSEP in detail, and additional potential impacts are listed below. We include this summary to help illustrate the scope of potential impacts and highlight the importance of incorporation of robust mitigation measures, described further in Section V of these comments.
Impacts identified in the DEIS – impacts to plant and wildlife species from the CDSEP could include loss of habitat and/or direct mortality to:
Game species, including pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep and elk (p. 3-21, 4-11). Special Status Animal Species, specifically the Crescent Dunes aegialian scarab Crescent Dunes aphodius scarab and Crescent Dunes serician scarab (p. 2-48, 3-33). Special Status Plant Species, specifically sand cholla and Nevada oryctes (p. 3-23, 4-15). Special Status Wildlife Species, including golden eagles, migratory birds, pale kangaroo mice and potentially several species of bats (p. 3-30, 4-23).
Impacts not identified in the DEIS – impacts from CDSEP could also include impacts to cultural resources:
Direct effects would include surface and subsurface disturbances to four existing properties recommended eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (eligible sites) caused by construction activities. (p. 4-65) Indirect effects: numerous eligible sites have been identified outside the Preferred Alternative, and indirect effects to these sites could be significant. Despite the importance of these potential effects, they have not been analyzed by the BLM in the DEIS. Possible effects to eligible sites outside the Preferred Alternative could include surface and subsurface disturbances from vehicle traffic, increased visitation and possible illicit artifact collection.
Recommendation: Given the significant natural and cultural resources that would be impacted by CDSEP, the BLM should require robust mitigation measures that are directly related to the expected impacts, and define how the efficacy of those mitigation measures will be evaluated. Section V of these comments includes additional recommendations on this issue, including recommendations to address potential indirect effects to cultural resources, including eligible sites.
V. The BLM Should Provide More Detail on Mitigation Measures for Wildlife Impacts, Terms and Conditions, and Field Survey Methods
a. Mitigation plans and terms and conditions
In order to evaluate the CDSEP, the public needs to know the potential impacts of CDSEP, the mitigation measures that the BLM will require TSE to employ, and how those measures will be monitored and evaluated for effectiveness and modified as necessary under a robust adaptive management plan.
Unfortunately, many of the mitigation measures and plans mentioned in the DEIS lack important details or are not present at all. The DEIS does include some good details in several areas, including raptor deterrent mechanisms (p. 2-48), compaction of soils (p. 2-51), and dark skies (p. 2-53). However, numerous other plans are missing altogether. For example, the DEIS mentions a mitigation plan for the Nevada State Protected Species pale kangaroo mouse and lists a few elements that the plan will contain, but does not provide the plan for review: “A mitigation plan is being developed between TSE, BLM, and NDOW.” Plans mentioned in the DEIS but not included for public review and comment include:
Special Status Wildlife Species – pale kangaroo mice and bats (p. 2-48) Weed Management Plan (p. 2-47) Golden eagle monitoring plan (p. 2-48) Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure plan (2-49) Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (p. 2-49) and Hazardous Materials Management Plan (p. 2-55).
The DEIS also does not explain how the mitigation measures and plans described in the document would be translated into terms and conditions in the Record of Decision (ROD) and incorporated in the ROW grant, or how TSE and the public will receive confirmation that the requirements have been met.
The comments in this section are intended to clarify our understanding of the mitigation measures included in the DEIS and recommend specific ways in which the BLM should improve its treatment of mitigation in the mitigation plans and the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The best way to address this issue would be to publish a supplement to the DEIS that clarifies and improves the discussion and incorporation of mitigation measures and includes the specific mitigation plans. At the very least, the BLM should publish this additional information and the actual mitigation plans on the BLM project website as soon as they are finalized and provide an opportunity for public comment.4 This additional information and the mitigation plans and/or DEIS supplement should be published prior to publication of the FEIS, and should also be incorporated into the FEIS.
Recommendations: As detailed above, the BLM should provide additional information on mitigation, as well as the actual mitigation plans for public review and comment. The plans
4 Please see footnote 1.
should include details on what, where, when, and how mitigation measures will be carried out, how they relate to the likely impacts of the project, how results will be monitored, and how adaptive management will be carried out based on the monitoring. The BLM should also specify how the mitigation measures will be translated into terms and conditions in the ROD.
As an example, we would direct the BLM to the Jack Morrow Hills Coordinated Activity Plan, prepared by the BLM in Rock Springs (Wyoming), which includes a highly detailed section (Appendix 17: "Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Process" – attached for your reference (Attachment A)) that provides the specificity needed to evaluate the effectiveness of planned mitigation measures by setting out specific indicators, measurements and actions to be taken if these measures are not effective. We particularly note the following sections, as examples of the sort of detail that should be contained in the environmental analysis for SSEP:
Table A17-1 Resource Management Indicators - p. 8 Table A17-2 Indicator Detail - p. 9-11 Table A17-3 Measurement Detail - p. 12-14 Figure A17-3 CAP Management Process - p. 16 and Discussion of the JMH CAP - p. 20-21.
b. Mitigation and adaptive management
The BLM should ensure that a robust adaptive management program is included in the FEIS and carried forward in the ROD. This is particularly important for measures for potentially serious impacts, such as mitigating impacts to wildlife from evaporation ponds. For example, if the BLM chooses to modify the mitigation plan for evaporation ponds and employ hazing or misting instead of the more aggressive and expensive netting, the BLM should carry forward a robust monitoring program, set clear thresholds for unacceptable levels of impacts, and specify additional mitigation measures required if thresholds are exceeded.
Recommendation: The BLM should include a robust adaptive management plan in the FEIS. c. Off-site mitigation
Utility-scale solar development has significant impacts on project sites, and off-site mitigation is one tool that should be used to offset impacts from converting intact, multiple-use lands to single-use, industrial energy production. TSE and the BLM should commit to further discussions with interested stakeholders to develop additional ideas for off-site mitigation, and the BLM should commit to further consideration and analysis of potential off-site mitigation measures.
We direct the BLM’s attention to Instruction Memorandum (IM) 2008-204, which describes the broad type of actions that may be taken to address both direct impacts of a project and greater cumulative effects that development is having on a landscape. IM 2008-204 identifies and elaborates on the types of off-site mitigation that can be used. For example:
Offsite mitigation may include, as appropriate:
In-kind: Replacement, substitution or permanent protection of resources that are of the same type and kind as those being impacted. Example: For every acre of new, long-term surface disturbance in important pale kangaroo mouse habitat in Area (A), (X) acres of suitable, in-use habitat in Area (B) will be administratively protected with permanent mineral withdrawal and no off-road/route vehicular activities with the specific purpose of protecting pale kangaroo mouse habitat.
Out-of-kind: Replacement or substitute resources that, while related, are of equal or greater overall value to public lands.
Example: For every acre of new, long-term surface disturbance in important pale kangaroo mouse habitat in Area (A), the project proponent agrees to bury (Y) miles of existing power lines and remove the power poles used as hunting perches by raptors in Area (B).
In-lieu-fee: Payment of funds to the BLM or a natural resource management agency, foundation, or other appropriate organization for performance of mitigation that addresses impacts of a project.
Example: The applicant may make payment to the BLM or a conservation group based on the amount of acres that will be disturbed in exchange for commitment from the recipient to apply the funds toward local, specified pale kangaroo mouse habitat protection/restoration projects.
In the context of solar development, there may be additional conservation priorities that can be pursued to mitigate the impacts of individual projects and the BLM could hold discussions with interested stakeholders to identify these potential targets for off-site mitigation efforts or funding. Regarding CDSEP, we are not comfortable with decisions regarding mitigation being made in closed negotiations, especially in light of the presence of poorly understood, but incredibly localized species (i.e., scarabs that have very high conservation importance but little scientific information). Although the preferred alternative does not directly impact the dune habitats where scarabs are believed to be localized, there is not enough known about the ecology and life history of these species to definitively rule out impacts that might arise from possibilities not discussed, e.g., shading from the tower on the dune habitats. (It is known that larval stages of invertebrates are particularly sensitive to variation in their thermal environment. Nothing is known about the larval requirements of these species and potential impacts from additional shade that change the thermal environment.)
Recommendation: Tonopah Solar Energy should commit to further discussions with interested stakeholders to develop additional ideas for off-site mitigation, and the BLM should commit to further consideration and analysis of potential off-site mitigation measures. A mitigation team should be assembled that would include expertise on the poorly understood invertebrate species in the area.
The BLM should provide additional details on the methods used for field surveys. Some good detail is included regarding the area of analysis and methodology for special status plant species surveys, including dates of surveys, and specifics on methods for pedestrian surveys. However,
additional information is necessary in several areas. The BLM should specify how many traps were used per trap line for kangaroo mice (p. 3-28), as well as whether and how many traps were used for reptiles. The BLM should also specify whether surveys were completed for bats.
We have seen that in Nevada as well as in other states, there is a lack of consistency in carrying out full protocol surveys and ensuring they are done at different times of the year to capture such things as fall-blooming plants. The BLM needs to implement standard, comprehensive guidelines for conducting surveys to ensure that all species’ presence on proposed renewable energy sites can be identified.
Recommendation: The BLM should provide the additional details covered above regarding field surveys. The BLM should also ensure that going forward, comprehensive wildlife and plant surveys are completed at least twice and at different times of the year (i.e., spring and fall) for every large scale renewable energy project.
VI. Cultural Resources and Native American Religious Concerns
We commend the BLM for actively consulting with interested Native Americans to determine any concerns they may have. However, no clear plan is included for addressing these concerns.
The DEIS does not make it clear whether the Nevada SHPO has had an opportunity to review the results of the Class III archaeological inventory, or whether the SHPO concurs with the eligibility determinations made by the BLM. The DEIS also fails to identify or explain whether any plan for protection against indirect effects has been developed for the eligible sites outside of the Preferred Alternative that have been identified during the inventory. Increased access of workers and the public may affect significant cultural resources through illicit collecting or inadvertent damage. The BLM needs to provide these details to the public.
Recommendation: The BLM should continue to consult with interested Native American tribes about the project and any concerns they may have. Understanding the sensitivities of these concerns, the BLM should clarify if a plan for alleviating issues has been developed to the satisfaction of all interested parties. The BLM should also make clear whether the SHPO has had an opportunity to review the Class III archaeological inventory and concurs with the determinations made by the BLM, as well as detailing a plan for avoidance of eligible sites found outside of the Preferred Alternative. The BLM should mandate education of the workers on the importance of avoiding cultural sites and artifacts and provide rules for areas not within the work area, for example, prohibiting off-road driving outside of the project.
VII. Analysis of dry cooling
a. The BLM should provide further analysis of the potential economic and technical feasibility of dry cooling, including potential impacts to the levelized cost of electricity (LCE), the annualized electrical production, and the capital cost of CDSEP.
As demand increases for the southwest’s already strained water resources, it is critical to capitalize on any available opportunities to limit unnecessary water use. Substantial groundwater pumping is already contributing to a lowering of the water table. Significant drops can contribute to ground subsidence and impact nearby wells, and harm any connected surface water and related wildlife. Because of these reasons, we appreciate that TSE and the BLM are proposing hybrid cooling rather than wet cooling for CDSEP. However, additional information is necessary on the potential impacts and benefits of dry cooling.
Though the DEIS does nominally analyze wet, dry and hybrid cooling, the analysis does not appear to be very deep. Similarly, the DEIS appears to dismiss dry cooling out of hand, simply stating that “because of the decrease in efficiency and, thereby, a higher power cost, the fully dry-cooled technology was not carried forward in the analysis.” (p. 2-65)
There are a number of hybrid and dry cooled power plants in operation today that illustrate the technical and economic feasibility of low water use cooling in some situations. A study by the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (CA PIER) program detailed years of data from five dry or hybrid cooled power plants (four combined cycle natural gas plants and one wood waste fired plant) and found limited difficulties with operations and maintenance of the dry and hybrid cooled systems.5 Further, a number of proposed solar plants that intend to begin construction by the end of this year in California and Nevada plan to use dry cooling.6
Overall, additional analysis of the potential impacts of dry cooling to the capital costs, annual output, and LCE from SSEP will be necessary to determine which option makes the most sense from environmental, economic and technical perspectives.
Recommendations: The BLM should provide further analysis of the potential impacts of dry cooling to the LCE, the annualized electrical production, and the capital cost of from
CDSEP. If dry cooling is determined to be technically and economically feasible, the BLM should select the least water-intensive cooling method as the agency’s Preferred Alternative.
VIII. Additional Issues to be Considered
a. The BLM should improve the purpose and need statement in the DEIS
The purpose statement in the DEIS is restricted to responding to TSE’s application for a ROW (p. 1-6). We are glad to see that the BLM’s need is defined to include limiting unnecessary or undue degradation of public lands. We are also glad to see mention of the broader goals for the BLM’s solar energy program in TSE’s purpose and need, including the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s goal of 10,000 MW of non-hydropower renewable energy on public lands by 2015 and
5 See Comparison of Alternate Cooling Technologies for California Power Plants: Economic, Environmental and Other Tradeoffs, California Energy Commission available at http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/2002-07-09_500-02- 079F.PDF 6 See Dry Cooling Challenges Notion of Water Intensity for Desert Solar available at http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/11/17/dry-cooling-challenges-notion-of-water-intensity-for-desert-solar/; BrighSource Energy, Ivanpah Solar Power Complex available at http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/projects/ivanpah
Interior Secretary Salazar’s March 11, 2009 Secretarial Order prioritizing responsible renewable energy development on public lands. (p. 1-8) However, to both make clear the BLM’s goals for its solar program and ensure that the DEIS is legally defensible, we recommend that the BLM go further in defining the purpose and need to include mention of the broader goal of “facilitating environmentally responsible commercial development of solar energy projects” and the possibility of CDSEP helping meet Nevada’s RPS and other clean energy goals.
Recommendation: The BLM should go further in defining the purpose and need for CDSEP to include mention of the broader goal of “facilitating environmentally responsible commercial development of solar energy projects” and the possibility of CDSEP helping meet Nevada’s RPS and other clean energy goals.
b. Analysis of alternatives
The DEIS does a good job of selecting three action alternatives and one no-action alternative for analysis in the DEIS. Further, the description of parameters used for site selection is very helpful. (p. 2-62). The fact that the project proponent and the BLM included enough flexibility to consider three action alternatives with different footprints was important in arriving at an alternative which minimizes impacts. We also appreciate that the BLM provides some description of the analysis conducted on two additional alternative sites outside of the current ROW application area, the Mud Lake Site, east of Tonopah, and the Peavine Creek Site, west of the proposed project site. (p. 2-63)
Though the information in the DEIS is helpful, we would recommend that the BLM include additional details on the results of the analyses of the Mud Lake and Peavine Creek sites to provide the public with additional information on why the sites identified as action alternatives were selected and why these sites were not.
Recommendation: The BLM should provide additional details on the results of the analyses of the Mud Lake and Peavine Creek sites to provide the public with additional information on why the sites identified as action alternatives were selected. For future NEPA analysis on proposed renewable energy projects, the BLM should fully analyze a robust range of action alternatives, including alternatives outside the proposed ROW, projects of different size, and projects that include phasing.
c. The BLM needs to clarify the extent of the grading of the project area
The DEIS makes it clear that the project area would be graded: “Approximately 1,500 acres (including the access road) would be graded in order to construct the project facilities (i.e., heliostats, power block, evaporation ponds, and administrative buildings), and a paved access road.” (p. 4-2) However, conflicting statements throughout the DEIS leave the reader with several different acreages of graded project area. Further, statements made by TSE staff at the public meetings in Las Vegas suggested that there would be little grading necessary because the area is level. We recommend limiting grading as much as possible to limit impacts to the project site.
Recommendations: The BLM should limit grading of the project site to the extent possible, and the BLM should make clear the extent of the grading of the project area.
d. The BLM should be commended for their public meetings format for the DEIS, and should continue to use this or a similar format in future CDSEP and other public meetings
The BLM should be commended for the format of their public meetings for CDSEP. These meetings included a presentation on CDSEP from the BLM and TSE, as well as “open house” time for the public to review poster boards and ask questions of BLM, TSE and other staff. The meetings also allowed participants to ask questions during a group question and answer session. These types of meetings are much more effective in engaging the public than meetings consisting only of open house time because of the opportunity for public discourse and questions.
Recommendation: The BLM should continue to hold public meetings in the format used for the CDSEP.
Thank you for your thorough consideration of these comments.
Alex Daue, Renewable Energy Coordinator
The Wilderness Society – BLM Action Center
1660 Wynkoop St. Suite 850 Denver, CO 80202
Greg Seymour, Renewable Energy Program Coordinator
Nevada Wilderness Project
P.O. Box 571675 Las Vegas, Nevada 89157
Barb Boyle, Senior Representative, Clean Energy Solutions Joe Johnson, Energy Chair Toiyabe Chapter Sierra Club PO Box 8096
Reno, NV 89507