Clean Energy and Conservation in Pahrump, Nevada

Balancing the development of abundant solar energy with the protection of some of the Mojave desert’s most iconic species is not easy—but it can be done.
Mojave Desert outside of Pahrump, Nevada
Credit: Helen O'Shea

Southern Nevada is a prime location for solar development—the sun shines well over 200 plus days a year here. It’s also home to some of the Mojave desert’s most iconic species including desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. Balancing the development of this abundant solar energy with the protection of these critical species is not easy—but it can be done. In 2012 the BLM laid out a roadmap for doing just that when it finalized its Western Solar Plan which created a framework for balancing clean energy and conservation across six western states including Nevada.

Southern Nevada is one of the first geographies where the BLM is getting the chance to test out components of its landmark Solar Plan. They held a successful auction in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone that demonstrated the feasibility of leasing areas in solar zones for development and then succeeded in permitting three solar projects in record time without sacrificing environmental review or considerations. These successes were recently highlighted in a Washington Post article.

BLM is now in the process of piloting another important part of their Solar Plan—creating the first round of new solar zones since the plan was finalized. The first effort to do this fell short on a number of levels including failing to follow the four-step process for new zone designation outlined in the Solar Plan. But after a rough start, BLM is now heading in a good direction as they take a second look at creating new zones. They are doing this by revising the draft of their Resource Management Plan for the Las Vegas and Pahrump Field Offices first issued in 2014. This plan looks at many issues under BLM’s purview, not just solar zones and conservation, and will be a critical document for mapping out the future of public lands in this part of the Silver State.

The time for public input is now (hence my visit to Pahrump). In addition to these public meetings, the BLM is also accepting written comments until February 2, 2018.

Stakeholder input is critical to getting this right—to determining where development is appropriate and where it isn’t. Putting the Solar Plan to work in Nevada is the right approach to answering both of these important questions.

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