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Stripped down solar project nears approval in Mojave Desert

In between the Soda Mountains in Mojave National is where the proposed 3,000-acre Soda Mountain Solar Project would go.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
In between the Soda Mountains in Mojave National is where the proposed 1,900-acre Soda Mountain Solar Project would go.

A 1900-acre solar project in the Mojave Desert is nearing final approval by the Bureau of Land Management. The agency issued its final environmental impact statement on Friday with a recommendation for a scaled-down version of the project that addresses environmental concerns.  

The Soda Mountain Solar Project would create 264 megawatts of solar energy output, enough to power nearly 80,000 homes. The project, sited along Interstate 15, is expected to take 18 to 22 months to construct.

The BLM decreased the scope of its proposed project over concerns that the area is an important habitat for threatened and endangered species.

“There’s been some interest in reintroducing [bighorn sheep] into that portion, so because of that interest, we’ve decided to remove that piece just to be sure that that wouldn’t create an impact if they were to pursue that reintroduction,” said Dana Wilson, public affairs officer with the Bureau of Land Management in California.

Environmental groups still opposed the project, saying any development on the site is unnecessary, because other choices exist that would experience less potential harm.

“Ideally, this project would not be in this location and would be in other locations that are previously disturbed and impacted desert lands,” said Stephanie Dashiell, California desert representative with Defenders of Wildlife.

Dashiell said Defenders of Wildlife has identified nearly 800,000 acres of desert land that would be more suitable for the project.

The plan will be entered into the federal registry on June 12. That initiates a 30-day protest period. Final approval of the project could be given in mid-August.

Dashiell said that her organization is reviewing the environmental impact statement and has not yet to protest or sue over the project. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Stephanie Dashiell's name. We regret the error.