Rice Solar Energy Project Record of Decision (DOE/EIS-0439), 78916-78919 [2011-32507]

Download as PDF 78916 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 244 / Tuesday, December 20, 2011 / Notices with Rules 211 and 214 of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (18 CFR 385.211 and 385.214). Protests will be considered by the Commission in determining the appropriate action to be taken, but will not serve to make protestants parties to the proceeding. Any person wishing to become a party must file a notice of intervention or motion to intervene, as appropriate. Such notices, motions, or protests must be filed on or before the date as indicated below. Anyone filing an intervention or protest must serve a copy of that document on the Applicant. Anyone filing an intervention or protest on or before the intervention or protest date need not serve motions to intervene or protests on persons other than the Applicant. The Commission encourages electronic submission of protests and interventions in lieu of paper using the ‘‘eFiling’’ link at http://www.ferc.gov. Persons unable to file electronically should submit an original and 7 copies of the protest or intervention to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE., Washington, DC 20426. This filing is accessible on-line at http://www.ferc.gov, using the ‘‘eLibrary’’ link and is available for review in the Commission’s Public Reference Room in Washington, DC. There is an ‘‘eSubscription’’ link on the web site that enables subscribers to receive email notification when a document is added to a subscribed docket(s). For assistance with any FERC Online service, please email FERCOnlineSupport@ferc.gov, or call (866) 208–3676 (toll free). For TTY, call (202) 502–8659. Comment Date: 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, December 27, 2011. Dated: December 14, 2011. Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary. [FR Doc. 2011–32511 Filed 12–19–11; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6717–01–P DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY Western Area Power Administration Rice Solar Energy Project Record of Decision (DOE/EIS–0439) Western Area Power Administration, DOE. ACTION: Record of Decision. jlentini on DSK4TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES AGENCY: Western Area Power Administration (Western) received a request from Rice Solar Energy, LLC (RSE) to interconnect its proposed Rice Solar Energy Project (Project) to SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:28 Dec 19, 2011 Jkt 226001 Western’s Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line. The Project would be located in eastern Riverside County, California, near State Route 62, approximately 40 miles northwest of Blythe, California, and 15 miles west of Vidal Junction, California. On June 10, 2011, the Notice of Availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Plan Amendment for Rice Solar Energy Project was published in the Federal Register (76 FR 34073). After considering the environmental impacts, Western has decided to allow RSE’s request for interconnection to Western’s transmission system at its Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line and to construct, own, and operate a new substation. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information, please contact Ms. Liana Reilly, Environmental Project Manager, Corporate Services Office, Western Area Power Administration, A7400, P.O. Box 281213, Lakewood, CO 80228, telephone (720) 962–7253, fax (720) 962–7263, or email: reilly@wapa.gov. For general information on DOE’s National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) review process, please contact Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance, GC–20, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC 20585, telephone (202) 586–4600 or (800) 472–2756. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Western is a Federal agency under the United States Department of Energy (DOE) that markets and transmits wholesale electrical power through an integrated 17,000-circuit mile, high-voltage transmission system across 15 western states. Western’s Open Access Transmission Service Tariff provides open access to its electric transmission system. Western provides transmission services through an interconnection if there is available capacity on the transmission system while protecting the transmission system reliability and considering the applicant’s objectives. The California Energy Commission (CEC), a regulatory agency of the State of California, has the statutory authority to license thermal powerplants of 50 megawatts or more, and is the State lead agency for the Project. CEC prepares environmental documentation equivalent to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In compliance with the NEPA, as amended, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 as amended, and the CEQA, Western and CEC, as joint lead agencies, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a cooperating agency, prepared and PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 released a joint Staff Assessment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SA/ Draft EIS) in October 2010,1 and subsequently held a public hearing on the document in Palm Desert, California, on January 5, 2011. Following the release of the SA/Draft EIS, Western determined that the next document in the CEC process, the Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision (PMPD), would be an inappropriate vehicle for Western to present responses to comments on the SA/Draft EIS. Therefore, Western prepared its own Final EIS, with input from the CEC. Western released the Final EIS in June 2011.2 Proposed Federal Action Western’s Federal involvement is related to the determination of whether to approve the interconnection request for the Project. Western’s Proposed Action is to interconnect the Project to Western’s transmission system at the existing Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line and construct, own, and operate a new substation adjacent to the transmission line. RSE Proposed Project RSE proposes to construct the Project in eastern Riverside County, California, on a portion of land that is privately owned. The Project would consist of a power block, a central receiver or tower, a solar field consisting of mirrors or heliostats to reflect the sun’s energy to the central tower, a thermal energy storage system, technical and nontechnical buildings, a storm water system, water supply and treatment system, a wastewater system, evaporation ponds, construction parking and laydown areas, and other supporting facilities. A new 10-mile 161/230 Kilovolt generator tie-line would extend from the southern boundary of the solar facility boundary to a new substation to be constructed adjacent to Western’s existing ParkerBlythe No. 2 Transmission Line. Part of the generator tie-line and the entire substation would be on BLM-managed land. The substation would be owned and operated by Western and would be approximately three acres in size. Description of Alternatives During the environmental analysis, CEC, BLM, and Western developed 28 alternatives to the Project. These included two modifications of the Project at the proposed site, the No 1 75 FR 66078 (October 10, 2010). Final EIS can be found on Western’s Web site at: http://ww2.wapa.gov/sites/Western/ transmission/interconn/Documents/ricesolar/ RiceSolarFEIS.pdf. 2 The E:\FR\FM\20DEN1.SGM 20DEN1 jlentini on DSK4TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 244 / Tuesday, December 20, 2011 / Notices Project/No Action Alternative, 12 alternative site locations, a range of solar and renewable energy technologies, generation technologies using different fuels, and conservation/ demand-side management. Of the 28 alternatives, 24 were dismissed as not meeting State and Federal renewable energy policy goals, not reducing environmental impacts, or infeasible due to various physical or regulatory considerations. CEC compared the impacts of the four remaining alternatives to the impacts of the proposed Project location and configuration. The four remaining alternatives included two that would be located on the proposed site of Rice Army Airfield, consisting of the Reduced Acreage Alternative and the State Route 62/Rice Valley Road Transmission Line Alternative, in addition to the No Project/No Action Alternative, and the North of Desert Center Alternative. The CEC decided that the North of Desert Center Alternative was a reasonable alternative to evaluate under the CEQA; thus, the potential impacts of that alternative were discussed throughout the SA/Draft EIS and the CEC Decision. The CEC concluded that impacts of this alternative with implementation of mitigation measures would have significant and unavoidable visual impacts. The number of residents adversely affected would be substantial and viewers in the easternmost slopes of Joshua Tree National Park could be affected. This site could also result in a cumulatively significant impact to local roadway traffic levels of service. The CEC also considered the State Route 62/Rice Valley Road Transmission Line Alternative, which would be a variation of the Project by realigning a portion of the generator tieline between the power plant site and the interconnection with Western’s Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line. This alternative would eliminate the need for a new access road and, therefore, would reduce impacts to desert habitat. However, this alternative would not substantially reduce or change the nature of impacts associated with the Project, may result in less efficient operations, and would not be feasible. Western’s decision is whether to grant the interconnection to its electrical grid on the Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line. Western’s statutory authorization is limited to marketing and delivering power and transmission. The alternatives that meet Western’s Purpose and Need are the Project on the Rice Army Airfield site, the Reduced Acreage VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:28 Dec 19, 2011 Jkt 226001 Alternative, and the No Action Alternative. As required by 40 CFR 1505.2(b), Western has identified the No Project/ No Action Alternative as its environmentally-preferred alternative. Under this alternative, Western would deny the interconnection request and not modify its transmission system to interconnect the Project. Under this alternative, there would be no modifications to Western’s transmission system, and no new environmental impacts. While the No Project/No Action Alternative has no new environmental impacts, it would not meet Western’s Purpose and Need nor RSE’s objectives relating to renewable energy development. Additional design and configuration modifications were also developed as mitigation measures to the original proposal. Western, BLM, and the CEC identified that the stormwater detention basin was not needed considering the runoff characteristics of the Project site would not be significantly altered for the developed site compared to the existing site conditions. RSE agreed to modify its plans accordingly, which reduced the potential to attract birds to the site and would limit bird injury or mortality. In addition, Western determined that fiber optic communication cable was no longer needed on the Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line. Any potential impacts to biological and cultural resources related to installing fiber optic on that line were removed, as Western chose to use microwave technology instead. Mitigation Measures Western, BLM, and the CEC detailed 186 different Conditions of Certification or mitigation measures for the Project. These Conditions of Certification are part of the standard licensing process of the CEC, are applicable to the power plant and linear facilities as specified, and in place for the life of the project, including construction, operation, and site closure/decommissioning. For protection of biological resources, there are 26 CEC required mitigation measures that would apply to construction and operation of the Project. These include assigning a Designated Biologist who would oversee all biological aspects of the Project and providing biological monitors to identify and protect sensitive plant and animal species during project construction. A Biological Resources Mitigation Implementation and Monitoring Plan will incorporate avoidance and minimization measures described in final versions of the Hazardous Materials Plan; the PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 78917 Revegetation Plan; the Weed Management Plan; the Special-Status Plant Impact Avoidance and Minimization Plan; the Desert Tortoise Translocation Plan; the Raven Monitoring, Management, and Control Plan; the Burrowing Owl Relocation and Mitigation Plan; the Streambed Management Plan; the Evaporation Pond Design, Monitoring, and Management Plan; and the Avian and Bat Protection Plan. The Biological Resources Mitigation Implementation and Monitoring Plan will include accurate and up-to-date maps depicting the location of sensitive biological resources that require temporary or permanent protection during construction and operation. As outlined in the CEC Commission Decision, RSE will also abide by the Biological Opinion (BO) issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Western will abide by the BO as it pertains to Western’s substation. Rice Army Airfield is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, having sufficient integrity to reflect its important historical association with the Desert Training Center, California-Arizona Maneuver Area (DTC/C–AMA). Western, BLM, and the CEC support the designation of a noncontiguous cultural landscape (historic district) that incorporates historical archaeological sites associated with General Patton’s World War II DTC/C–AMA, to be known as the Desert Training Center Cultural Landscape. RSE will abide by the cultural conditions in the CEC Commission Decision, which include, but are not limited to, the implementation of a Cultural Resources Monitoring and Mitigation Plan, construction monitoring, and data recovery as well as compliance with the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for Section 106 compliance. An MOA consistent with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act has been prepared and executed between Western, BLM, and the California State Historic Preservation Office. The purpose of the MOA is to document compliance with Section 106 by describing the treatment of historic properties, the Historic Properties Management Plan, results of Native American consultation, the treatment of human remains of Native American origin should they be found, and how RSE, BLM, and Western would respond to discoveries and unanticipated effects during the course of Project construction. Cultural resources mitigation includes a number of measures that will significantly enhance the public’s E:\FR\FM\20DEN1.SGM 20DEN1 jlentini on DSK4TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 78918 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 244 / Tuesday, December 20, 2011 / Notices opportunities to obtain information about Rice Army Airfield. A historic interpretive roadside stop, including parking and a shaded information kiosk, will be constructed and maintained to inform the public that the Project would be located on the former site of Rice Army Airfield and to advise where they can obtain more information. In consideration that water is a limited resource, the Project owner would use dry cooling, which avoids significant water use associated with steam condensation, and would limit other Project-related water uses during operations to no more than 150 acre-feet per year, as outlined in the CEC Condition, Soil & Water-5. Furthermore, CEC Condition Soil and Water-6 requires that the Project owner must also prepare and implement a Groundwater Level and Quality Monitoring and Reporting Plan to establish baseline groundwater levels and quality, and to assure the Project’s water use is consistent with predicted drawdown and water quality effects in the aquifer. While direct and cumulative significant visual impacts that would be caused by the introduction of the solar receiver tower and 360-degree luminance from the top of the receiver tower cannot be mitigated to insignificant levels or avoided, the Project would include mitigation measures that minimize other potential visual impacts. Mitigation measures prescribed by the CEC Commission Decision include, but are not limited to, surface treatment on the outermost rows of heliostats and to major structures to minimize visual intrusion and contrast by blending with the existing visual background. Western performed a System Impact Study to assess potential transmission system impacts associated with the Project’s interconnection to Western’s Parker-Blythe No. 2 transmission line and downstream effects. The Project owner must prepare a mitigation plan for potential overloads in the Southern California Edison and Imperial Irrigation District systems identified in Western’s System Impact Study. The plan would be approved by Western and would involve all stakeholders including Western, California Independent System Operator, Southern California Edison, Imperial Irrigation District, and Metropolitan Water District, and would be subject to agreement by RSE. Western is adopting those mitigation measures that apply to its action and will issue a Mitigation Action Plan before any construction activity takes place. The plan will address the VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:28 Dec 19, 2011 Jkt 226001 adopted and standard mitigation measures. When completed, the Mitigation Action Plan will be made available to the public. Taking the Project modifications, commitments, and requirements into account, all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm from the Project and Western’s Proposed Action have been adopted. Comments on Final EIS Western received comments from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a letter dated June 30, 2011, and from La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle (La Cuna) and CAlifornians for Renewable Energy (CARE) on August 30, 2011. Based on a review of these comments, Western has determined that the comments do not present any significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the Project or its impacts, and a Supplemental EIS is not required. The basis for this determination is summarized below. EPA noted that the Final EIS addressed many of their concerns on the SA/Draft EIS. Additionally, EPA expressed concerns regarding impacts to aquatic and biological resources, ephemeral washes, desert tortoise, and impacts to site hydrology and the availability of adequate compensatory mitigation lands. Responses to these concerns are addressed below. In addition, EPA wanted to reiterate the importance of meaningful tribal consultation and financial assurance. EPA suggested that the Record of Decision (ROD) include the CEC Conditions of Certification from the CEC Commission Decision. As noted previously, CEC has jurisdiction over the private lands while Western does not, thus all CEC Conditions are not listed here. RSE is required to comply with all CEC Conditions. For further information on the CEC conditions, the reader is referred to the CEC Commission Decision. EPA recommended that heliostats and transmission towers not be placed in drainages and that the number of road crossings over washes be minimized. The Project would be sited within the previously modified drainage shed and will be constructed on the former location of the Rice Army Airfield. With regard to ephemeral washes, EPA wanted to ensure the availability of sufficient compensation lands to replace desert wash functions lost on the project site. As noted in Section 6.2 of the SA/ DEIS, damage to ephemeral washes will be mitigated at a ratio of 1:1. This is confirmed in the CEC Commission PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Decision. Condition Bio-22 notes that the acreage of permanent and long-term impacts will include all ephemeral drainages impacted (by the Project) and that they will be mitigated by compensation at a 1:1 ratio. EPA also requested confirmation that the detention basin was removed and that soil and water and revegetation measures are in place. Western confirms that this is the case and refers EPA and others to page 26 of the FEIS and section 6.9 of the SA/Draft EIS for in-depth information on the mitigation measures that RSE will abide by with regards to soil and water and revegetation. Additionally, EPA requested that Western condition right-of-way approval to mitigation success. Western’s role in the Project is to make a decision regarding the interconnection request. Western does not have jurisdictional authority over the generation facility, and is unable to accommodate this request. EPA also expressed concern regarding desert tortoise mitigation ratios as well as compensatory mitigation proposals. EPA wanted assurance that suitable mitigation lands are available. The mitigation measure ratios are explained on pages 6.2–92 through 6.2–94 of the SA/Draft EIS, and mitigation lands are addressed on page 6.2–97. As noted above, RSE will comply with the terms of the USFWS BO as required by the CEC, and Western will comply with the terms of the USFWS BO as related to Western’s substation. Tribal consultation was also a concern expressed by EPA as well as La Cuna and CARE. As noted in section 6.3 of the SA/DEIS and reiterated in the Final EIS, Western has been consulting with the Tribes since the beginning of the Project. Although no prehistoric or sacred sites were identified in the area of potential effect of the Project, Western has continued to consult with Tribal representatives and has sent the MOA for the Project to the tribal representatives for their review, comment, and/or signature. Finally, EPA expressed concern regarding decommissioning and the proposed surety bond. Information regarding the surety bond and CEC’s requirements can be found on page 32 of the SA/DEIS.’ ’’ La Cuna and CARE expressed concern that, ‘‘the EIS fails to take a hard look at cultural resources.’’ Cultural resources are addressed in the SA/DEIS on pages 6.3–1 through 6.3–92. La Cuna and CARE cited that the EIS failed to look at a reasonable range of alternatives. Western would like to direct the reader to pages 4–1 through 4–74 for a description of the alternatives E:\FR\FM\20DEN1.SGM 20DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 244 / Tuesday, December 20, 2011 / Notices that were included in the alternatives analysis for the Project. Although, Western is making a decision regarding the interconnection request submitted by Solar Reserve and does not dictate the type of generation, the SA/DEIS examined alternative generation types. Land use plan inconsistency is also noted by La Cuna and CARE. Western notes the comment and emphasizes that the decision being made in this ROD is only to grant the interconnection request for the Project and does not signify that all the other permitting and land use requirements have been met. La Cuna and CARE mention that, ‘‘the purpose and need statements are too narrowly constructed.’’ Western has noted the comment and refers the reader to pages 2–4 and 2–8 through 2–9 for more information on the agency’s authority, Purpose and Need. Cumulative impacts were another issue of concern for La Cuna and CARE. Western directs the reader to section 5 of the document for the rationale describing which projects were considered for the cumulative impacts analysis as well as for the results of the analysis. La Cuna and CARE also expressed concern that a programmatic EIS (PEIS) should have been developed prior to this EIS. Although, there is currently a PEIS being developed for solar projects, there is no requirement for the completion of a PEIS prior to the completion of a project specific EIS. Lack of appropriate mitigation was also noted by La Cuna and CARE. Western directs the reader to the SA/DEIS and the CEC Conditions of Certification to the 186 conditions of certification/mitigation measures that have been created and will be implemented for the Project. Finally, La Cuna and CARE raise a concern that, ‘‘the RMP violates the Federal Land Policy Management Act [FLPMA].’’ Western acknowledges this comment and the concern that La Cuna and CARE have with BLM’s FLMPA responsibilities. jlentini on DSK4TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Decision Western’s decision is to allow RSE’s request for interconnection to Western’s transmission system at its Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line and to construct, own and operate a new substation.3 Western’s decision to grant this interconnection request satisfies the agency’s statutory mission and RSE’s 3 Western’s authority to issue a ROD is pursuant to authority delegated on November 16, 2011, from DOE’s Office of the General Counsel. VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:28 Dec 19, 2011 Jkt 226001 objectives while minimizing harm to the environment. This decision is based on the information contained in the Rice Solar Energy Project Final EIS. This ROD was prepared pursuant to the requirements of the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for Implementing NEPA (40 CFR parts 1500–1508) and DOE’s Procedures for Implementing NEPA (10 CFR part 1021). Dated: December 12, 2011. Timothy J. Meeks, Administrator. [FR Doc. 2011–32507 Filed 12–19–11; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6450–01–P ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY [EPA–HQ–OAR–2011–0901; FRL–9608–7] Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collections; Comment Request; Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment Area New Source Review (Renewal) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ACTION: Withdrawal of notice. AGENCY: The EPA announces the withdrawal of the notice titled, ‘‘Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collections; Comment Request; Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment Area New Source Review (Renewal)’’ published on December 7, 2011. The December 7, 2011, notice is a duplicate to the notice published on November 25, 2011. The November 25, 2011, notice announced in compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) that the EPA is planning to submit a request to renew an existing approved Information Collection Request (ICR) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This ICR is scheduled to expire on April 30, 2012. Before submitting this ICR to OMB for review and approval, the EPA is soliciting comments on specific aspects of the proposed information collection through the notice pulished on November 25, 2011. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Pamela Long, Air Quality Policy Division, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (C504–01), Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27711; telephone number: (919) 541– 0641; fax number: (919) 541–5509; email address: long.pam@epa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 78919 I. General Information A. Does this action apply to me? This action is directed to the public in general. If you have any questions regarding the withdrawal of the December 7, 2011, notice, consult the person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. B. How can I get copies of this document and other related information? The EPA has established a public docket for the ICR renewal Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2011–0901, which is available for online viewing at www.regulations.gov, or in person viewing at the Air and Radiation Docket in the EPA Docket Center (EPA/DC), EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC The EPA/DC Public Reading Room is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. The telephone number for the Public Reading Room is (202) 566–1744. Use www.regulations.gov to obtain a copy of the draft collection of information, submit or view public comments, access the index listing of the contents of the docket and access those documents in the public docket that are available electronically. Once in the system, select ‘‘search,’’ then key in the docket ID number identified in this document. II. Withdrawn Document The EPA is withdrawing the notice titled, Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collections; Comment Request; Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment Area New Source Review (Renewal)’’ published on December 8, 2011 in the Federal Register at 76 FR 76713. This notice was a duplicate to the notice published in the Federal Register on November 25, 2011 at 76 FR 72700. Comments remain due on or before January 24, 2012. Dated: December 13, 2011. Jennifer Noonan Edmonds, Acting Director, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. [FR Doc. 2011–32571 Filed 12–19–11; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6560–50–P FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION Information Collection Being Reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission Federal Communications Commission. AGENCY: E:\FR\FM\20DEN1.SGM 20DEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 244 (Tuesday, December 20, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 78916-78919]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-32507]


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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

Western Area Power Administration


Rice Solar Energy Project Record of Decision (DOE/EIS-0439)

AGENCY: Western Area Power Administration, DOE.

ACTION: Record of Decision.

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SUMMARY: Western Area Power Administration (Western) received a request 
from Rice Solar Energy, LLC (RSE) to interconnect its proposed Rice 
Solar Energy Project (Project) to Western's Parker-Blythe No. 2 
Transmission Line. The Project would be located in eastern Riverside 
County, California, near State Route 62, approximately 40 miles 
northwest of Blythe, California, and 15 miles west of Vidal Junction, 
California. On June 10, 2011, the Notice of Availability of the Final 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Plan Amendment for Rice Solar 
Energy Project was published in the Federal Register (76 FR 34073). 
After considering the environmental impacts, Western has decided to 
allow RSE's request for interconnection to Western's transmission 
system at its Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line and to construct, 
own, and operate a new substation.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information, please 
contact Ms. Liana Reilly, Environmental Project Manager, Corporate 
Services Office, Western Area Power Administration, A7400, P.O. Box 
281213, Lakewood, CO 80228, telephone (720) 962-7253, fax (720) 962-
7263, or email: reilly@wapa.gov. For general information on DOE's 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) review process, please 
contact Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and 
Compliance, GC-20, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC 20585, 
telephone (202) 586-4600 or (800) 472-2756.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Western is a Federal agency under the United 
States Department of Energy (DOE) that markets and transmits wholesale 
electrical power through an integrated 17,000-circuit mile, high-
voltage transmission system across 15 western states. Western's Open 
Access Transmission Service Tariff provides open access to its electric 
transmission system. Western provides transmission services through an 
interconnection if there is available capacity on the transmission 
system while protecting the transmission system reliability and 
considering the applicant's objectives.
    The California Energy Commission (CEC), a regulatory agency of the 
State of California, has the statutory authority to license thermal 
powerplants of 50 megawatts or more, and is the State lead agency for 
the Project. CEC prepares environmental documentation equivalent to the 
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
    In compliance with the NEPA, as amended, the Federal Land Policy 
and Management Act of 1976 as amended, and the CEQA, Western and CEC, 
as joint lead agencies, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a 
cooperating agency, prepared and released a joint Staff Assessment/
Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SA/Draft EIS) in October 2010,\1\ 
and subsequently held a public hearing on the document in Palm Desert, 
California, on January 5, 2011. Following the release of the SA/Draft 
EIS, Western determined that the next document in the CEC process, the 
Presiding Member's Proposed Decision (PMPD), would be an inappropriate 
vehicle for Western to present responses to comments on the SA/Draft 
EIS. Therefore, Western prepared its own Final EIS, with input from the 
CEC. Western released the Final EIS in June 2011.\2\
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    \1\ 75 FR 66078 (October 10, 2010).
    \2\ The Final EIS can be found on Western's Web site at: http://ww2.wapa.gov/sites/Western/transmission/interconn/Documents/ricesolar/RiceSolarFEIS.pdf.
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Proposed Federal Action

    Western's Federal involvement is related to the determination of 
whether to approve the interconnection request for the Project. 
Western's Proposed Action is to interconnect the Project to Western's 
transmission system at the existing Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission 
Line and construct, own, and operate a new substation adjacent to the 
transmission line.

RSE Proposed Project

    RSE proposes to construct the Project in eastern Riverside County, 
California, on a portion of land that is privately owned. The Project 
would consist of a power block, a central receiver or tower, a solar 
field consisting of mirrors or heliostats to reflect the sun's energy 
to the central tower, a thermal energy storage system, technical and 
non-technical buildings, a storm water system, water supply and 
treatment system, a wastewater system, evaporation ponds, construction 
parking and laydown areas, and other supporting facilities. A new 10-
mile 161/230 Kilovolt generator tie-line would extend from the southern 
boundary of the solar facility boundary to a new substation to be 
constructed adjacent to Western's existing Parker-Blythe No. 2 
Transmission Line. Part of the generator tie-line and the entire 
substation would be on BLM-managed land. The substation would be owned 
and operated by Western and would be approximately three acres in size.

Description of Alternatives

    During the environmental analysis, CEC, BLM, and Western developed 
28 alternatives to the Project. These included two modifications of the 
Project at the proposed site, the No

[[Page 78917]]

Project/No Action Alternative, 12 alternative site locations, a range 
of solar and renewable energy technologies, generation technologies 
using different fuels, and conservation/demand-side management.
    Of the 28 alternatives, 24 were dismissed as not meeting State and 
Federal renewable energy policy goals, not reducing environmental 
impacts, or infeasible due to various physical or regulatory 
considerations. CEC compared the impacts of the four remaining 
alternatives to the impacts of the proposed Project location and 
configuration. The four remaining alternatives included two that would 
be located on the proposed site of Rice Army Airfield, consisting of 
the Reduced Acreage Alternative and the State Route 62/Rice Valley Road 
Transmission Line Alternative, in addition to the No Project/No Action 
Alternative, and the North of Desert Center Alternative.
    The CEC decided that the North of Desert Center Alternative was a 
reasonable alternative to evaluate under the CEQA; thus, the potential 
impacts of that alternative were discussed throughout the SA/Draft EIS 
and the CEC Decision. The CEC concluded that impacts of this 
alternative with implementation of mitigation measures would have 
significant and unavoidable visual impacts. The number of residents 
adversely affected would be substantial and viewers in the easternmost 
slopes of Joshua Tree National Park could be affected. This site could 
also result in a cumulatively significant impact to local roadway 
traffic levels of service.
    The CEC also considered the State Route 62/Rice Valley Road 
Transmission Line Alternative, which would be a variation of the 
Project by realigning a portion of the generator tie-line between the 
power plant site and the interconnection with Western's Parker-Blythe 
No. 2 Transmission Line. This alternative would eliminate the need for 
a new access road and, therefore, would reduce impacts to desert 
habitat. However, this alternative would not substantially reduce or 
change the nature of impacts associated with the Project, may result in 
less efficient operations, and would not be feasible.
    Western's decision is whether to grant the interconnection to its 
electrical grid on the Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission Line. Western's 
statutory authorization is limited to marketing and delivering power 
and transmission. The alternatives that meet Western's Purpose and Need 
are the Project on the Rice Army Airfield site, the Reduced Acreage 
Alternative, and the No Action Alternative.
    As required by 40 CFR 1505.2(b), Western has identified the No 
Project/No Action Alternative as its environmentally-preferred 
alternative. Under this alternative, Western would deny the 
interconnection request and not modify its transmission system to 
interconnect the Project. Under this alternative, there would be no 
modifications to Western's transmission system, and no new 
environmental impacts. While the No Project/No Action Alternative has 
no new environmental impacts, it would not meet Western's Purpose and 
Need nor RSE's objectives relating to renewable energy development. 
Additional design and configuration modifications were also developed 
as mitigation measures to the original proposal. Western, BLM, and the 
CEC identified that the stormwater detention basin was not needed 
considering the runoff characteristics of the Project site would not be 
significantly altered for the developed site compared to the existing 
site conditions. RSE agreed to modify its plans accordingly, which 
reduced the potential to attract birds to the site and would limit bird 
injury or mortality. In addition, Western determined that fiber optic 
communication cable was no longer needed on the Parker-Blythe No. 2 
Transmission Line. Any potential impacts to biological and cultural 
resources related to installing fiber optic on that line were removed, 
as Western chose to use microwave technology instead.

Mitigation Measures

    Western, BLM, and the CEC detailed 186 different Conditions of 
Certification or mitigation measures for the Project. These Conditions 
of Certification are part of the standard licensing process of the CEC, 
are applicable to the power plant and linear facilities as specified, 
and in place for the life of the project, including construction, 
operation, and site closure/decommissioning.
    For protection of biological resources, there are 26 CEC required 
mitigation measures that would apply to construction and operation of 
the Project. These include assigning a Designated Biologist who would 
oversee all biological aspects of the Project and providing biological 
monitors to identify and protect sensitive plant and animal species 
during project construction. A Biological Resources Mitigation 
Implementation and Monitoring Plan will incorporate avoidance and 
minimization measures described in final versions of the Hazardous 
Materials Plan; the Revegetation Plan; the Weed Management Plan; the 
Special-Status Plant Impact Avoidance and Minimization Plan; the Desert 
Tortoise Translocation Plan; the Raven Monitoring, Management, and 
Control Plan; the Burrowing Owl Relocation and Mitigation Plan; the 
Streambed Management Plan; the Evaporation Pond Design, Monitoring, and 
Management Plan; and the Avian and Bat Protection Plan. The Biological 
Resources Mitigation Implementation and Monitoring Plan will include 
accurate and up-to-date maps depicting the location of sensitive 
biological resources that require temporary or permanent protection 
during construction and operation. As outlined in the CEC Commission 
Decision, RSE will also abide by the Biological Opinion (BO) issued by 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Western will abide by the 
BO as it pertains to Western's substation.
    Rice Army Airfield is eligible for listing in the National Register 
of Historic Places, having sufficient integrity to reflect its 
important historical association with the Desert Training Center, 
California-Arizona Maneuver Area (DTC/C-AMA). Western, BLM, and the CEC 
support the designation of a noncontiguous cultural landscape (historic 
district) that incorporates historical archaeological sites associated 
with General Patton's World War II DTC/C-AMA, to be known as the Desert 
Training Center Cultural Landscape. RSE will abide by the cultural 
conditions in the CEC Commission Decision, which include, but are not 
limited to, the implementation of a Cultural Resources Monitoring and 
Mitigation Plan, construction monitoring, and data recovery as well as 
compliance with the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for Section 106 
compliance.
    An MOA consistent with Section 106 of the National Historic 
Preservation Act has been prepared and executed between Western, BLM, 
and the California State Historic Preservation Office. The purpose of 
the MOA is to document compliance with Section 106 by describing the 
treatment of historic properties, the Historic Properties Management 
Plan, results of Native American consultation, the treatment of human 
remains of Native American origin should they be found, and how RSE, 
BLM, and Western would respond to discoveries and unanticipated effects 
during the course of Project construction.
    Cultural resources mitigation includes a number of measures that 
will significantly enhance the public's

[[Page 78918]]

opportunities to obtain information about Rice Army Airfield. A 
historic interpretive roadside stop, including parking and a shaded 
information kiosk, will be constructed and maintained to inform the 
public that the Project would be located on the former site of Rice 
Army Airfield and to advise where they can obtain more information.
    In consideration that water is a limited resource, the Project 
owner would use dry cooling, which avoids significant water use 
associated with steam condensation, and would limit other Project-
related water uses during operations to no more than 150 acre-feet per 
year, as outlined in the CEC Condition, Soil & Water-5. Furthermore, 
CEC Condition Soil and Water-6 requires that the Project owner must 
also prepare and implement a Groundwater Level and Quality Monitoring 
and Reporting Plan to establish baseline groundwater levels and 
quality, and to assure the Project's water use is consistent with 
predicted drawdown and water quality effects in the aquifer.
    While direct and cumulative significant visual impacts that would 
be caused by the introduction of the solar receiver tower and 360-
degree luminance from the top of the receiver tower cannot be mitigated 
to insignificant levels or avoided, the Project would include 
mitigation measures that minimize other potential visual impacts. 
Mitigation measures prescribed by the CEC Commission Decision include, 
but are not limited to, surface treatment on the outermost rows of 
heliostats and to major structures to minimize visual intrusion and 
contrast by blending with the existing visual background.
    Western performed a System Impact Study to assess potential 
transmission system impacts associated with the Project's 
interconnection to Western's Parker-Blythe No. 2 transmission line and 
downstream effects. The Project owner must prepare a mitigation plan 
for potential overloads in the Southern California Edison and Imperial 
Irrigation District systems identified in Western's System Impact 
Study. The plan would be approved by Western and would involve all 
stakeholders including Western, California Independent System Operator, 
Southern California Edison, Imperial Irrigation District, and 
Metropolitan Water District, and would be subject to agreement by RSE.
    Western is adopting those mitigation measures that apply to its 
action and will issue a Mitigation Action Plan before any construction 
activity takes place. The plan will address the adopted and standard 
mitigation measures. When completed, the Mitigation Action Plan will be 
made available to the public. Taking the Project modifications, 
commitments, and requirements into account, all practicable means to 
avoid or minimize environmental harm from the Project and Western's 
Proposed Action have been adopted.

Comments on Final EIS

    Western received comments from the U.S. Environmental Protection 
Agency (EPA) in a letter dated June 30, 2011, and from La Cuna de 
Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle (La Cuna) and CAlifornians for 
Renewable Energy (CARE) on August 30, 2011. Based on a review of these 
comments, Western has determined that the comments do not present any 
significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental 
concerns and bearing on the Project or its impacts, and a Supplemental 
EIS is not required. The basis for this determination is summarized 
below.
    EPA noted that the Final EIS addressed many of their concerns on 
the SA/Draft EIS. Additionally, EPA expressed concerns regarding 
impacts to aquatic and biological resources, ephemeral washes, desert 
tortoise, and impacts to site hydrology and the availability of 
adequate compensatory mitigation lands. Responses to these concerns are 
addressed below. In addition, EPA wanted to reiterate the importance of 
meaningful tribal consultation and financial assurance. EPA suggested 
that the Record of Decision (ROD) include the CEC Conditions of 
Certification from the CEC Commission Decision. As noted previously, 
CEC has jurisdiction over the private lands while Western does not, 
thus all CEC Conditions are not listed here. RSE is required to comply 
with all CEC Conditions. For further information on the CEC conditions, 
the reader is referred to the CEC Commission Decision.
    EPA recommended that heliostats and transmission towers not be 
placed in drainages and that the number of road crossings over washes 
be minimized. The Project would be sited within the previously modified 
drainage shed and will be constructed on the former location of the 
Rice Army Airfield. With regard to ephemeral washes, EPA wanted to 
ensure the availability of sufficient compensation lands to replace 
desert wash functions lost on the project site. As noted in Section 6.2 
of the SA/DEIS, damage to ephemeral washes will be mitigated at a ratio 
of 1:1. This is confirmed in the CEC Commission Decision. Condition 
Bio-22 notes that the acreage of permanent and long-term impacts will 
include all ephemeral drainages impacted (by the Project) and that they 
will be mitigated by compensation at a 1:1 ratio.
    EPA also requested confirmation that the detention basin was 
removed and that soil and water and revegetation measures are in place. 
Western confirms that this is the case and refers EPA and others to 
page 26 of the FEIS and section 6.9 of the SA/Draft EIS for in-depth 
information on the mitigation measures that RSE will abide by with 
regards to soil and water and revegetation. Additionally, EPA requested 
that Western condition right-of-way approval to mitigation success. 
Western's role in the Project is to make a decision regarding the 
interconnection request. Western does not have jurisdictional authority 
over the generation facility, and is unable to accommodate this 
request.
    EPA also expressed concern regarding desert tortoise mitigation 
ratios as well as compensatory mitigation proposals. EPA wanted 
assurance that suitable mitigation lands are available. The mitigation 
measure ratios are explained on pages 6.2-92 through 6.2-94 of the SA/
Draft EIS, and mitigation lands are addressed on page 6.2-97. As noted 
above, RSE will comply with the terms of the USFWS BO as required by 
the CEC, and Western will comply with the terms of the USFWS BO as 
related to Western's substation.
    Tribal consultation was also a concern expressed by EPA as well as 
La Cuna and CARE. As noted in section 6.3 of the SA/DEIS and reiterated 
in the Final EIS, Western has been consulting with the Tribes since the 
beginning of the Project. Although no prehistoric or sacred sites were 
identified in the area of potential effect of the Project, Western has 
continued to consult with Tribal representatives and has sent the MOA 
for the Project to the tribal representatives for their review, 
comment, and/or signature.
    Finally, EPA expressed concern regarding decommissioning and the 
proposed surety bond. Information regarding the surety bond and CEC's 
requirements can be found on page 32 of the SA/DEIS.' ''
    La Cuna and CARE expressed concern that, ``the EIS fails to take a 
hard look at cultural resources.'' Cultural resources are addressed in 
the SA/DEIS on pages 6.3-1 through 6.3-92.
    La Cuna and CARE cited that the EIS failed to look at a reasonable 
range of alternatives. Western would like to direct the reader to pages 
4-1 through 4-74 for a description of the alternatives

[[Page 78919]]

that were included in the alternatives analysis for the Project. 
Although, Western is making a decision regarding the interconnection 
request submitted by Solar Reserve and does not dictate the type of 
generation, the SA/DEIS examined alternative generation types.
    Land use plan inconsistency is also noted by La Cuna and CARE. 
Western notes the comment and emphasizes that the decision being made 
in this ROD is only to grant the interconnection request for the 
Project and does not signify that all the other permitting and land use 
requirements have been met.
    La Cuna and CARE mention that, ``the purpose and need statements 
are too narrowly constructed.'' Western has noted the comment and 
refers the reader to pages 2-4 and 2-8 through 2-9 for more information 
on the agency's authority, Purpose and Need.
    Cumulative impacts were another issue of concern for La Cuna and 
CARE. Western directs the reader to section 5 of the document for the 
rationale describing which projects were considered for the cumulative 
impacts analysis as well as for the results of the analysis.
    La Cuna and CARE also expressed concern that a programmatic EIS 
(PEIS) should have been developed prior to this EIS. Although, there is 
currently a PEIS being developed for solar projects, there is no 
requirement for the completion of a PEIS prior to the completion of a 
project specific EIS.
    Lack of appropriate mitigation was also noted by La Cuna and CARE. 
Western directs the reader to the SA/DEIS and the CEC Conditions of 
Certification to the 186 conditions of certification/mitigation 
measures that have been created and will be implemented for the 
Project.
    Finally, La Cuna and CARE raise a concern that, ``the RMP violates 
the Federal Land Policy Management Act [FLPMA].'' Western acknowledges 
this comment and the concern that La Cuna and CARE have with BLM's 
FLMPA responsibilities.

Decision

    Western's decision is to allow RSE's request for interconnection to 
Western's transmission system at its Parker-Blythe No. 2 Transmission 
Line and to construct, own and operate a new substation.\3\ Western's 
decision to grant this interconnection request satisfies the agency's 
statutory mission and RSE's objectives while minimizing harm to the 
environment.
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    \3\ Western's authority to issue a ROD is pursuant to authority 
delegated on November 16, 2011, from DOE's Office of the General 
Counsel.
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    This decision is based on the information contained in the Rice 
Solar Energy Project Final EIS. This ROD was prepared pursuant to the 
requirements of the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for 
Implementing NEPA (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and DOE's Procedures for 
Implementing NEPA (10 CFR part 1021).

    Dated: December 12, 2011.
Timothy J. Meeks,
Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2011-32507 Filed 12-19-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6450-01-P