A 400 MW BrightSource Energy project slated along the road to Las Vegas could become the first major California solar thermal project built in recent memory if state and federal permitting authorities stay on schedule. Groundbreaking could come next summer in time for the project to qualify for a federal grant that could cover 30 percent of its construction costs. Under an accelerated permitting process, the federal government could give authority to BrightSource to build the project on 5.3 square miles of public land in the high desert by June 1, according to Tom Hurshman, Bureau of Land Management project manager. A state permit also is in the offing under an evidentiary hearing schedule the California Energy Commission set during a November 18 conference call. CEC hearing officer Paul Kramer slated the first hearing on the project December 14, with more hearings right after the holidays. However, conservationists and environmentalists want the schedule slowed. The CEC hearing calendar comes after the Department of Interior--BLM\u2019s parent agency--announced last week that it was fast tracking permits for Ivanpah and a handful of other renewable energy projects slated for federal lands in California (Circuit, Nov. 13, 2009). BrightSource plans to build the project in three phases on the Ivanpah Dry Lake bed along Interstate 15 about three miles west of the California-Nevada border. It would consist of reflective mirrors that would focus sunlight on 459 foot tall power towers in which water would be boiled into steam to drive turbines that make electricity. The steam would be dry-cooled and re-circulated in a closed loop. The project in San Bernardino County would dispatch its power to the grid by interconnecting with a nearby Southern California Edison substation that would be upgraded to handle the additional power. During the telephone conference call, some conservationists argued for the public agencies to slow the permitting schedule in order to accommodate broader public participation. Calling the schedule hurried and \u201cunfair,\u201d Defenders of Wildlife California representative Joshua Basolin said that environmental groups and citizens need more time to fully review the 1,200-page final staff assessment and draft environmental impact statement for the project. That document is just now being delivered to parties in the permitting proceeding, he said. Western Watershed Project representative Michael O\u2019Connor urged the Energy Commission to hold a meeting on the project in the high desert area so local residents could participate. Energy Commission staff hesitated, saying that with budget cuts, an intense permit load, and the furlough for state workers they might not be able to afford the time or money needed to travel to the area for a hearing. The final staff assessment points out that the project will have \u201cunavoidable cumulative impacts\u201d on the land, a parcel the currently serves as a recreational area, native species habitat, grazing area, and open space. It also notes that the large solar project, with its skyscraper-like power towers, will have unavoidable visual impacts. However, it noted that the glare from the project\u2019s mirrors can be mitigated along the busy road, which is regularly jammed with motorists driving to and from Las Vegas on Friday and Sunday afternoons.