Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Views Vary on McCoy Solar Energy Plant

For Michael S. Dea of the Laborers' International Union of North America, NextEra Energy's proposed McCoy solar energy project could mean jobs for about 200 of the union's unemployed members in eastern Riverside County.

For Riverside County, the photovoltaic project, planned for up to 750 megawatts, could mean as much as $1.9 million in year from the county's $450-per-acre solar energy fee as well as another $3 million a year in sales tax during construction.

For Patricia Pinon, a tribal activist with the La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, the project is yet another intrusion into pristine desert areas honeycombed with hidden tribal artifacts and old trails.

Such differing views of the project were discussed during a public meeting Wednesday night in Palm Desert, where the Bureau of Land Management reviewed its draft environmental impact statement on the project, answered questions and sought public input.

McCoy is 13 miles northwest of the city of Blythe and due north of the stalled 1,000-megawatt Blythe solar project, which NextEra bought last week in the bankruptcy auction of Solar Trust of America's projects in the Riverside East solar zone.

The combined projects could cover more than 11,000 acres, or about 17 square miles, creating the potential for compounded impacts on habitat, water use, and cultural and visual resources in the region. Kenny Stein, environmental project manager for NextEra, said any future development on the Blythe site would also be photovoltaic, but could provide no further details.

McCoy is expected to create an average of about 340 jobs per year during construction, and about 20 permanent jobs, he said.

“I'm here in opposition to solar power plants inundating the I-10,” Pinon said. “Our questions are always how future power plants will deal with encountering ancient sites. It's hard to control all the things that could go wrong.”

Patrick V. Jordan of Palm Springs, who owns land east of the McCoy site, was not concerned that the project might be visible from his land.

“The long-term impact of having renewable energy will outweigh the visual impact,” he said.

David Lane, Blythe city manager for Blythe, was not at the meeting, but in a phone interview earlier Wednesday said so far the project has not stirred strong feelings positive or negative in the community, which had high hopes for the Blythe project before it ground to a halt amid Solar Trust's financial problems and eventual bankruptcy.

“Nobody cares; they're completely silent,” Lane said. “It's indifference because it's not in their face.”

A second public meeting on the project will be held tonight at Blythe City Hall.

Stein said if permitting moves ahead on schedule, NextEra is hoping to break ground in 2014 and have the first 250-megawatt unit of McCoy online in 2016. The company has a contract with Southern California Edison for the power, but has no contract yet for the second unit of up to 500 megawatts.

At completion, the project could provide electricity for up to 225,000 homes.

McCoy may still get close scrutiny in the wake of NextEra's 250-megawatt Genesis prioject, now under construction about 25 miles west of Blythe, which has hit a series of snags, including an outbreak of canine distemper which killed about 10 desert kit foxes on and near the site. The discovery of potentially significant tribal artifacts also slowed work in recent months.

Jeff Childers, project manager for the BLM said the agency is requiring extra studies on archeological resources in areas of the site near the McCoy wash, where prehistoric tribes might have camped. Extra care with kit foxes is also planned, he said.

If approved, McCoy would be NextEra's fourth project in the Riverside East solar energy zone, about 147,000 acres of public land between Joshua Tree National Park and the city of Blythe. In addition to Genesis and Blythe, the company is also part owner, with GE, of the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project near Desert Center.

Source: http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120628/NEWS01/206280325/Views-vary-McCoy-solar-energy-plant?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Frontpage&nclick_check=1

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