[Federal Register: June 17, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 115)]
[Page 28720-28722]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-ES-2009-N116; 81440-1112-0000-F2]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Permits, Beacon 
Solar Energy Project, Kern County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to undertake scoping for an environmental 
document (Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement) 
related to a habitat conservation plan for the proposed Beacon Solar 
Energy Project.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the 
public that we intend to conduct public scoping under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to gather information necessary 
to help develop a NEPA document in connection with a proposed Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Beacon Solar Energy Project (Beacon 
HCP), currently under development by Beacon Solar LLC (the applicant). 
To be implemented near California City, in Kern County, California, the 
proposed Beacon HCP forms part of an incidental take permit application 
under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The 
requested permit term is 45 years. We provide this notice to obtain 
suggestions, comments, and useful information from other agencies and 
the public on the scope of the document, including the significant 
issues deserving of study, the range of alternatives, and the range of 
impacts to be considered.

DATES: We must receive any written comments on or before July 17, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Written Submissions: Please address written information, 
comments, or questions related to the preparation of the EA or EIS to 
Diane Noda, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventura 
Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 
93003. Alternatively, you may fax comments to (805) 644-3958.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Judy Hohman, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, (see ADDRESSES), telephone (805) 644-1766, extension 304.



    We intend to scope under NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) to gather 
information necessary to help develop a NEPA document in connection 
with our proposed action or reaching a permit decision on the Beacon 
Solar Energy Project's proposed HCP. The HCP forms part of an 
incidental take permit application under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). We provide this notice to obtain suggestions and information on 
the scope of issues and alternatives to be considered in the NEPA 
document. An EA is prepared for Federal actions that will have a less 
than significant effect on all resources impacted in the human 
environment, or to determine whether an EIS should be prepared. An EIS 
is prepared for Federal actions that will have a significant impact on 
one or more resources in the human environment. We will determine if an 
EA or an EIS will be prepared based on the public comments received and 
the complexity of issues identified during the scoping phase of the 
NEPA process.
    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened. Take 
of federally listed fish or wildlife is defined under the Act to 
include the following activities: To harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any 
such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1532). ``Harm'' in the definition of take 
includes significant habitat modification or degradation that kills or 
injures listed wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral 
patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3(c)). 
Under section 10(a) of the Act, we may issue permits to authorize 
``incidental take'' of listed species. Any proposed incidental take 
must be incidental to otherwise lawful activities, not appreciably 
reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in 
the wild, and minimize and mitigate the impacts of such take to the 
maximum extent practicable. In addition, the applicant must prepare a 
HCP describing the impact that will likely result from such taking, the 
strategy for minimizing and mitigating the incidental take, the funding 
available to implement such steps,

[[Page 28721]]

alternatives to such taking, and the reason such alternatives are not 
being implemented. To obtain an incidental take permit, an applicant 
must prepare a HCP that meets the issuance criteria established by the 
Service (50 CFR 17.22(b)(2)). Should a permit be issued, the permit 
would include assurances under the Services' ``No Surprises'' 
regulations (50 CFR 17.22(b)(5) and 17.32(b)(5)). Regulations governing 
permits for threatened and endangered species, respectively, are at 50 
CFR 13 and 50 CFR 17.
    The issuance of an incidental take permit is a Federal 
discretionary action. Therefore, we must comply with NEPA and ensure 
that environmental information is available to public officials and 
citizens before making a decision on issuing the permit.

Beacon HCP

    The applicant is proposing to construct, operate, and maintain a 
250-megawatt (MW) renewable-energy solar thermal powerplant for 45 
years on approximately 2,030 contiguous acres of retired agricultural 
land and Mojave desert scrub land. Specific covered activities 
associated with project construction include: deep trenching, grading, 
and filling to prepare the site for the installation of an array of 
solar collectors, construction of power generating equipment, cooling 
towers, evaporation ponds, administrative buildings, an interconnecting 
transmission line, an underground natural gas pipeline (or propane 
tanks on site); constructing and maintaining access roads, rechanneling 
a wash from the project site to the perimeter of the site, and 
constructing a fence around most of the 2,030 acre project site. 
Specific activities associated with operation and maintenance of the 
solar project include: maintaining roads, washing and replacing solar 
collectors, maintaining the rerouted channel, replacing electrical 
transmission line components, maintaining fences, and removal of all 
vegetation on the 2,030 acres. Construction is expected to take up to 
36 months. Facility operation is proposed for approximately 30 years. 
The facility decommissioning and habitat rehabilitation is expected to 
be completed before the end of the proposed 45-year permit term.
    The solar power plant would use an array of solar collectors, to 
track the sun's movement and collect solar energy. Energy collected 
from the solar collectors would heat transfer fluid in a linear 
receiver to generate steam that drives a steam turbine to generate 
electrical power. The power would be carried from the 2,030-acre 
project site to an existing Los Angeles Department of Water and Power 
(LADWP) high-voltage transmission line by an interconnecting 
transmission line. A wet cooling tower would be constructed to provide 
cooling for the power generating equipment. The applicant anticipates 
that potential sources of water for construction, operation, and 
decommissioning of the Beacon Solar Facility would include using 
existing wells on the property previously used for irrigating crops, 
and/or drilling new wells near Koehn Dry Lake, and/or using tertiary 
treated waste water discharged from the wastewater treatment facilities 
located in the cities of Rosamond and/or California City. A lined 10-
to-40-acre evaporation pond would be used to collect the waste stream 
from the project's cooling water system. The evaporation pond would use 
the sun's energy to remove water from the cooling system waste, after 
which, the concentrated, dewatered solid waste would be transported off 
site for disposal, likely to a disposal site already permitted by the 
State of California.
    The solar array field and natural gas pipeline, as well as part of 
the interconnecting transmission line and related power plant 
facilities, would be located east of State Route 14, while a relatively 
small area west of the highway would be used for the remaining portion 
of the interconnecting transmission line with an existing LADWP high-
voltage transmission line at LADWP's existing Barren Ridge Switching 
Station. The proposed facilities would be located within a 100-year 
flood plain.
    Species proposed for coverage in the Beacon HCP are those that 
occur within the HCP Planning Area, may be affected by the proposed 
covered activities, and are currently listed as federally threatened or 
endangered or may become federally listed during the term of the 
proposed permit. The Beacon HCP proposes to addresses three covered 
species: The federally threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), 
the State threatened Mohave ground squirrel (Spermophilus mohavensis), 
and the State species of special concern western burrowing owl (Athene 
cunicularia). The construction, operation, maintenance, and 
decommissioning (disassembly) of the proposed project and 
rehabilitation (habitat restoration) of the proposed project site would 
likely result in incidental take of the desert tortoise, as well as 
impacts to the Mohave ground squirrel and western burrowing owl. 
Therefore, these three species are proposed to be covered in the Beacon 
HCP. Take may occur from vehicle collisions, capture and handlings of 
protected species to move them from harm's way, and attraction of 
common ravens (predators to desert tortoises) to the project site by 
food, water, and trash from human sources. The potential risk to 
migratory birds of toxic salts in evaporation ponds is an additional 
biological issue.
    The area proposed for the solar array would be located in an area 
previously used for intensive agriculture. This area does not provide 
suitable habitat to support the desert tortoises. A small portion of 
the proposed project, the interconnecting transmission line from the 
solar array to an existing high-voltage transmission line, is located 
in suitable habitat that is occupied by desert tortoises. The proposed 
Beacon HCP would provide for the long-term conservation and management 
of the covered species and their habitats within the HCP's planning 
area. The applicant is presently proposing to preserve in perpetuity 
115 to 118 acres of suitable Mohave ground squirrel habitat at an off-
site location. This 115- to-118-acre preserve would also include 
approximately 25 acres of suitable desert tortoise habitat as well as 
20 acres of suitable western burrowing owl habitat. In addition, the 
applicant is proposing a 6-acre on site conservation easement for the 
western burrowing owl.

National Environmental Policy Act

    The EA or EIS will consider the effects of issuing an incidental 
take permit for the proposed HCP and for a reasonable range of 
alternatives. These alternatives might vary by the location of the 
solar energy project; the number of covered species; the covered 
activities; different strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and 
mitigating the impacts of incidental take; the amount of land preserved 
or restored; the type of species conservation efforts; or a combination 
of these factors. A detailed description of all reasonable 
alternatives, including the proposed action, will be included in the EA 
or EIS. A No-Action alternative will be included in the analysis of the 
alternatives considered.
    The EA or EIS will identify all direct, indirect, and cumulative 
impacts of the proposed action and each alternative on the significant 
issues identified through this public scoping process; these issues 
will likely concern biological resources, land use, air quality, water 
resources, ground water, cultural resources, socioeconomics, visual 
resources, noise, traffic, geology, and soils. The proposed action and 
each alternative will identify

[[Page 28722]]

avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures to reduce 
environmental impacts, and will mitigate species incidental-take to the 
maximum extent practicable.
    We anticipate that a draft EA or draft EIS and the associated draft 
Beacon Solar Energy Project HCP will be available in late 2009 and will 
have a public review period. The preparation and public review of the 
EA or EIS will be conducted in accordance with the requirements of 
NEPA, its implementing regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508; found at (http://
www.legal.gsa.gov), other applicable Council on Environmental Quality 
regulations and NEPA guidance and our policies and procedures on 
compliance with those laws and regulations.
    We furnish this notice in accordance with 40 CFR 1501.2, 1501.7 
1506.6, and 1508.22 to obtain suggestions, comments, and useful 
information from other agencies and from the public on the scope of the 
EA or EIS, including identification of significant issues deserving of 
study, the range of actions, the range of alternatives, and the range 
of impacts to be considered. We welcome written comments from all 
interested parties to ensure that the full range of issues related to 
the permit request is identified. You may submit written comments by 
mail or facsimile transmission (see ADDRESSES). All comments we 
receive, including names and addresses, will become part of the 
official administrative record for this NEPA document. Before including 
your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal 
identifying information in your scoping comment, you should be aware 
that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be publicly available at any time. While you can ask 
us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information 
from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Ken McDermond,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E9-14215 Filed 6-16-09; 8:45 am]