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Trouble in Solar Paradise

Solar field with mountains in distance


Sixty miles from Las Vegas, the unincorporated town of Pahrump, Nevada, has plenty of sunshine to generate solar power, but residents are upset that San Francisco-based Candela Renewables wants to build a large-scale solar field across approximately 2,300 acres. Candela Manager of Development Dewey Klurfield discussed plans for the Rough Hat Nye County solar project at a meeting of the Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee, and many residents criticized the company for encroaching on their land.

Although Nevada is striving to be a leader in renewable energy, around 80 percent of the state is public land, mostly maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Residents and conservationists fear that the project could destroy thousands of miles of delicate cryptobiotic desert crust--—a thin layer of bacteria-rich soil that retains water and nutrients, and slows erosion--— at the expense of local ecosystems. Large-scale solar fields also run the risk of displacing native plant and animal life, and contributing to dust storms. Nels Johnson, North American director for renewable energy at The Nature Conservancy, states, “We need to recognize that any form of energy is going to have some impacts. The question is how do we try to avoid and minimize those impacts?”

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