Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Major Solar Project for Barstow Region

Public voice concerns, questions about solar project

By Jessica Cejnar, Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • Representatives from local businesses, higher education, conservation groups and individual residents asked questions and gave their opinions on a proposed solar power project that will be built east of Newberry Springs.

Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems transported two busloads of people 37 miles down Interstate 40 to the proposed site for their Calico-Solar One power project Monday afternoon. What is now an empty stretch of desert may soon house 24,000 to 34,000 mirrored solar dishes. The proposed project will have the capability of generating between 500 and 850 megawatts of electricity, powering up to 425,000 homes. The site visit was followed immediately by a public hearing.

Tessera representatives said they estimate needing 100 to 700 workers during construction, which is planned for late 2010, and 140 full time workers once the project is complete. About 75 percent of those workers will be local, they said.

The proposed 8,200-acre facility is bordered by the Cady Mountains to the North and the Pisgah Crater Area of Environmental Concern to the east. When folks were given an opportunity to step off the busses, their concerns ranged from road access to air and water pollution to concerns about potential impacts to endangered species. People were also concerned with how many jobs this project would bring the community.

“People in the Greater Barstow community have a very earned suspect about energy companies based on past experiences,” said Yermo resident Joe Orawczyk, referencing Hinkley’s prior experience with Pacific Gas and Electric.

Orawczyk visited the site on his own Saturday and did his own research in addition to perusing Tessera Solar’s application for certification that was submitted to the Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission. He brought almost 19 pages of questions and comments with him to the meeting.

Among Orawczyk’s concerns was whether or not Tessera’s project would deplete the underground aquifer.

“The water table is 310 feet below (ground),” he said. “My concern is that the aquifer will run out eventually.”

Jeff Aardahl, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife, recommended additional analysis be done on the impacts the project could have on the desert tortoise and desert big horn sheep populations.

“Data needs to be much more detailed and disclosed to the public,” he said.

Not everyone was concerned about the projects, Allen Malloy was there in the hopes of developing a relationship between Tessera and the company he works for, Goodspeed Distributing, a fuel and lubricant supplier based in Hesperia.

Malloy and Goodspeed lubricant Sales Manager Jaime Diaz said they hope that instead of getting their fuel and lubricant needs from another company outside of the high desert, Tessera Energy will work with them.

“Our sales dollars go a long way in the community,” Malloy said. “If there’s an opportunity for my company to grow, we will try to make that business relationship (work).”

For those who weren’t able to make the public hearing and want to comment about the project, they can e-mail their comments to docket@energy.state.ca.us. The docket number for the project is 08-AFC-13.

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