Huge solar project planned on public land in Beaver County
The Star Range proposed by South Korean energy giant Hanwha would cover an area of up to 4,300 acres near Milford
A South Korean energy company is proposing a massive solar project in Utah’s Beaver County, where it will build and operate a sprawling complex of photovoltaic panels covering nearly 11,000 acres.
With 600 megawatts of generating capacity, the Star Range project would be one of the first large-scale projects to be built on public lands in Utah, likely to attract opposition from ranchers who rely on such lands for grazing livestock.
While Utah has seen a solar boom on private and state lands in the sun-drenched western half of the state, not much has been developed on lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Now, California-based 174 Power Global LLC is hoping to tap into Utah’s vast public lands to build what may be the state’s largest solar farm.
The project is located 9 miles southwest of Milford and falls outside BLM’s designated Solar Enterprise Zones (SEZs), areas they believe are best suited for large utility-scale photovoltaic systems. As such, Star Range must undergo an environmental analysis to ensure it is eligible for a deviation before the BLM can give the green light.
The proposal caught a nearby property owner and longtime county commissioner by surprise.
Milford rancher Mark Whitney said he opposes solar projects on public lands because they take land away from agricultural production without bringing much revenue to local government.
“America is first in time and first in right. So when you start doing that, you take away the historical grazing values of our ancestors, our heritage, our customs and our culture,” said Whitney, who recently left the Beaver County Commission. “When you do projects like this, your citizens, the students and the schools have practically no monetary value. The only thing we get is the so-called “payment in lieu of tax”. [or PILT] what we call ‘payments instead of trillions’.”
During his 24-year tenure as elected leader, the Milford region has grown into one of the largest renewable energy hubs in the west, with significant wind and geothermal potential. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources don’t use a lot of water or release harmful emissions to generate electricity.
The problem with solar, Whitney says, is that it would displace cattle grazing, which is the economic backbone of rural areas like Beaver County. Whitney led the county’s effort to pass an ordinance requiring the conservation of public grazing land, measured in “animal unit months” or AUMs.
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“We specifically stated there that renewable energy projects would not be allowed on public land without a so-called net loss of AUMs,” he said. “That means if they take 4,300 acres of production from a ranch, they have to provide it elsewhere.”
State is generally not subject to local zoning, but such an ordinance might have some weight in the BLM’s decision. The area proposed for the Star Range project is near a 4,800-acre public lot called Milford Flats South, which the BLM leased last year to another company eyeing the construction of a 600-megawatt project. This bloc is one of three Special Economic Zones in Utah.
BLM has established 19 solar energy zones covering 285,000 acres in six sunny Southwest states. In addition to Milford Flats South, there are federal solar zones in nearby Escalante Valley (6,614 acres) and Wah Wah Valley (6,097 acres).
The BLM will be accepting public comments on the Star Range project beginning May 24 when it holds a virtual public meeting.
174 Power Global is a subsidiary of Hanwha Energy Corp., a global conglomerate based in South Korea. The company’s name refers to 174 petawatts, or the amount of solar energy that the earth is receiving at any point in time. A petawatt is one quadrillion watts or one billion megawatts.
According to BLM, the company chose the site west of Minersville because the land is relatively flat and borders a major transmission line. It lies between the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the 345-kilovolt Sigurd-to-Red Butte power line operated by Rocky Mountain Power.
The solar system would be connected directly to this transmission line.