Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Public Lands Debate Hijacked by Extremists in Nevada

At the urging of a small but vocal group of extremists, the Nevada legislature is considering an unconstitutional bill that would take public lands currently managed by the Federal government and hand them over to private interests for grazing, logging and mining (Assembly Bill 408).  Cliven Bundy, whose dangerous supporters aimed semi-automatic rifles at law enforcement officers, characterizes the bill as a "freedom and liberty thing," according to the Los Angeles Times.  They suggest that the Federal government limits public access to public land in Nevada, but they apparently define "freedom" as giving industry free reign to destroy the desert.

Southern Nevada is blessed with some beautiful desert wildlands.  Drive in any direction from Las Vegas and you'll find a corner of desert where you can enjoy solitude, the smell of creosote, and a beautiful landscape.  Contrary to what Bundy would like me to believe, I have never felt fenced out.   I have camped and hiked on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) south of Searchlight where I watched the setting sun light up Spirit Mountain.  I camped with my brother in the Wee Thump Wilderness area among a forest of Joshua Trees.  I have enjoyed visits to the Desert and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuges where I stood in awe of how species can adapt and thrive in such an unforgiving landscape.  I watched a shelf of billowy white and silver clouds sit on top of the magnificant Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area as a late winter storm approached.  I drove up rough roads to the base of Bare Mountain to investigate a natural spring frequented by bighorn sheep, and watched a golden eagle circle high above the peak.

Sunset across the Piute Valley with Spirit Mountain catching the last rays of light. BLM lands south of Searchlight, Nevada.
Public lands in Nevada are not being shielded from human destruction, either.  I would argue that quite the opposite is happening as increasing human and industrial demands are taking a toll.  There are bulldozers scraping several square miles of desert habitat next to Primm for First Solar's Silver State South solar project.  Suburbs and cities in southern Nevada have ballooned over the past few decades, eating up open space and tapping into a dwindling water supply.  Bundy's cows are grazing illegally on thousands of acres of the desert near Gold Butte, while cows belonging to other ranchers that follow the law and pay their fair share also graze in the state.  In Clark County alone, mines produced over 4.5 million metric tons of various commodities in the year 2013. Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts enjoy open areas and miles of routes carved into the desert, some of which I also depend upon to get to my favorite camping spots. 

So what do Cliven Bundy and some members of the Nevada legislature think we should be doing with our public lands?   Apparently they want a free-for-all where the most powerful interests can expand destructive uses, depriving the rest of us of the natural treasures that we should be protecting for future generations.  Are these people familiar with the tragedy of the commons?

I do not always agree with the Federal government's decisions on how to manage public lands, but I sure as hell do not agree with Cliven Bundy's proposal to hand over public lands to industry and other profiteers under the guise of freedom.  Public lands should stay in public hands, and that means finding a balance among the multitude of human demands that protects wildlife and wide-open landscapes.  We should not take open space and biodiversity for granted.

We should have a rational discussion about land management in Nevada, but people like Cliven Bundy - who want to deprive us of our ability to enjoy and explore public lands - have proven that they have nothing constructive to say.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

West Mojave Plan Would Expand OHV Route Network


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in February released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the West Mojave Plan that would expand the open route network for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use and limit livestock grazing.  Despite concerns that an earlier iteration of the plan's OHV route network would have a significant adverse effect on wildlife, this draft proposes to significantly expand authorized OHV access to 10,428 miles of routes.  For the sake of comparison, the City of Los Angeles alone has about 6,500 miles of paved roads.

The last iteration of the West Mojave Plan was finalized in 2006 and proposed to designate 5,098 miles of open routes, but a Federal judge ordered the BLM to revise the plan.  The court ruled that the original plan lacked sufficient analysis of the effects of OHV use and grazing on wildlife, and asked the BLM to evaluate alternative OHV route networks that would minimize conflict and avoid considerable adverse effects on soil, wildlife and cultural resources.

A wash southwest of Ridgecrest known to support Mohave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.  The El Paso Mountains can be seen in the distance.
The court also asked the BLM to update its baseline inventory of existing routes (both authorized and unauthorized).  The public expressed concern that the BLM's original assessment of 8,000 miles of existing routes underestimated the amount of illegal new routes carved by OHV riders not following open routes.  In response, the BLM took another look at the West Mojave using high resolution satellite imagery and found approximately 15,000 miles of authorized and illegal routes carved into the West Mojave - far more than the BLM had originally thought existed.

Miles of existing routes inventoried in 2001: approximately 8,000 miles

Miles of open route designated in the 2006 West Mojave Plan:  5,098

Miles of existing routes inventoried in 2012: approximately 15,00

Miles proposed as open routes in the 2015 supplemental EIS: 10,428

Despite public concern that the smaller open route network would itself have adverse impacts on wildlife, the BLM is now proposing to more than double the miles of authorized routes in its 2015 supplemental EIS.   Although every fan of the desert relies on open routes to access our favorite corners of this beautiful region, there is a careful balance that needs to be struck between access, recreation, and protecting the integrity of our wildlands.  The plan would create areas where the concentration of open routes combined with the high frequency of OHV use would encourage a pattern of erosion and vegetation loss that could threaten the viability of wildlife habitat over time.  Specifically, a significant portion of the proposed open routes occur between the Golden Valley and El Paso Mountains Wilderness areas, which serves as important habitat for the Mohave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.  Each route eliminates desert vegetation, and reduces forage and cover available to animals.

A screen shot of the open route network map for a portion of the West Mojave Plan area near Ridgecrest, California.  The open routes are designated in green, with a significant concentration between the Golden Valley and El Paso Mountains Wilderness Areas.
Perhaps the impacts of the route network could be manageable if every OHV rider stayed on designated routes, but the impacts are likely to expand with unauthorized route creation.  Without proper education and enforcement, riders sometimes add to the network by departing from authorized routes and carving new tracks across the desert.  Once a track is carved into the desert soil, it is unlikely to disappear for years.   Other riders may see and follow the track, assuming it is part of an open network.  The repeat OHV travel on the illegal track increases the damage, and makes it all the more difficult to conceal from other OHV riders. 

A hill south of Ridgecrest scarred by multiple OHV routes.  Over time, the loss of topsoil contributes to erosion and prevents vegetation from growing.  As routes become impassable, OHV riders sometimes carve new routes, further expanding erosion and loss of vegetation.
The BLM is accepting comments on the draft supplemental EIS until June 4, 2015, and has indicated that it may revise the open route network based on specific comments from the public.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Grid Operator Says Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Line Unnecessary

Southern California Edison's (SCE) proposal to build a destructive new transmission line across desert wildlands just hit a snag.  The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) - the organization responsible for managing the state's transmission grid - reported that SCE's proposed Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project is no longer necessary to bring all of the Mojave Solar project's energy to the grid.  SCE had argued that it could not deliver energy from Abengoa's Mojave Solar on existing transmission lines because those lines were already in use by other power plants.  A new 75 mile transmission line would be needed to connect the project to the grid, according to SCE, a portion of which would be built outside of existing transmission corridors.

The early dawn sun highlights desert silhouettes in the northern Lucerne Valley, just east of the Granite Mountains.  The proposed Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project would cut right through this landscape.
However, the CAISO's submission to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) undercuts SCE's case for building the new transmission line.  SCE needs CPUC's approval in order to pass along costs to build the new line to ratepayers.  CAISO argues that the retirement of other power plants in the region have freed up enough capacity on transmission lines to fully deliver the energy generated by the Mojave Solar project.  This doesn't count the Coolwater natural gas plant, that has also ceased operations but has not relinquished its rights to transmission lines.  If that plant also follows suit, even more capacity will be available.

SCE has put forward other reasons to build the Coolwater-Lugo Transmission line, but it had scrapped less destructive alternatives because it argued that it needed to serve the Mojave Solar project.  Hopefully CPUC will ask SCE to reconsider its options for transmission line upgrades in the desert.  There are plenty of existing transmission corridors that can be upgraded, and distributed generation and storage should be used to alleviate the need for new transmission lines in the first place.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DRECP: Is the New Approach a Threat or Opportunity?

The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) agencies announced this week that they would adopt a phased approach to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in response to widespread concern about the proposed endangered species permitting mechanism and conflict with county land use plans.   Under this approach, the more contentious aspects of the DRECP will be further refined after additional consultation with the counties and rolled out at a later date.

The first phase will amend the land use planning for Federal lands in the California desert, establishing both conservation and development focus areas.  The second phase will establish development areas on private lands as well as the streamlined permitting process for renewable energy projects under State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.  Reactions to the phased approach range from concern to relief.

Will Desert Conservation Move Forward?

How well the first phase is received will depend largely on whether or not the BLM sticks to its original preferred alternative or attempts to cram more Development Focus Areas (DFAs) onto public lands.  CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas during a teleconference this week noted that many of the 12,000 public comments on the DRECP expressed strong support for conservation designations on public lands.  It is safe to say that many of those comments probably asked for even more public lands to be included in the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) or designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

Although the draft BLM land use plan was not perfect, many recognize the need to confer the conservation designations that the desert needs.   As California expands its Renewable Portfolio Standard, we can expect the energy rush on public lands to continue; any delay in conservation measures will only prolong the dangerous game of  roulette that we have played with our prized desert landscapes and wildlife.

However, public land enthusiasts and conservation groups have expressed concern that the BLM may try to compensate for the delayed roll out of DFAs on private lands by adding more DFAs on public lands.  During the teleconference announcement this week BLM California Director Jim Kenna did not specify whether, or how much the "preferred alternative" would change when it is rolled out in a final environmental impact statement.  This is not surprising considering that Federal agencies have not finished reviewing public comments and typically maintain silence regarding internal deliberations.  However, Mr. Kenna did acknowledge that the BLM land use plan will be based on the original range of alternatives included in the draft DRECP. 

A significant addition of DFAs on public lands almost certainly would rile the majority of people that spent time reviewing and commenting on the DRECP because of the overwhelming support for conservation designations, and the fact that most people probably did not have the time to comment on the DRECP beyond the preferred alternative.  Although the draft DRECP identified several other alternative land use plans with varying configurations of DFAs and conservation designations, most people I spoke with had focused their comments on the the constellation of DFAs identified in the preferred alternative.  Selecting a different alternative would constitute a last minute bait-and-switch, depriving people of providing meaningful input on additional DFAs.



An Opportunity to Reduce DFAs

Delaying the second phase of the DRECP provides more time for agencies to reconsider the role that distributed generation can play in meeting our renewable energy goals.  Plenty of individuals and groups urged the REAT agencies to re-evaluate the role that energy efficiency and rooftop solar can play, thereby reducing the need for DFAs.  During this week's announcement,  the REAT agencies did not give any indication that they planned to do so, however.  In fact, the announcement of the phased approach reiterated the DRECP's underlying assumption that DFAs should accommodate 20,000 megawatts of large-scale renewable energy generation in the California desert.

However, closer coordination with the counties should still allow for a reduction in the DFAs.  The draft DRECP over-allocated DFA lands in part to counter perceived uncertainty regarding whether renewable energy companies can secure access to private lands for development.  Presumably, coordination with counties will clear up some of this uncertainty, enabling planners to significantly reduce proposed DFAs. 

Sand verbena blooming at the base of Amboy Crater in the Mojave Desert


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Senator Feinstein Reintroduces and Expands Desert Bill

Senator Feinstein this week introduced a revised version of her desert bill that would protect beautiful and remote stretches of the California desert while also setting the stage for significant land exchanges intended to allow for industrial development elsewhere in the state.  The bill would create two new national monuments, designate six new wilderness areas, and add acreage to existing national parks.   The new conservation areas would provide welcomed protection for over a million acres of desert wildlands that industry is eyeing for development.  However, the bill will also leave open the potential that new transmission lines will bisect the new monuments, and requires the Department of Interior to transfer nearly 370,000 acres of public lands elsewhere in California in exchange for parcels of land owned by the State of California that currently fall within the boundaries of desert wilderness, monuments and parks.

The bill is a reincarnation of the California Desert Protection Act, but it is renamed the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 (CDCRA).  If passed by Congress, the Mojave Trails National Monument and Sand-to-Snow National Monuments would protect over one million acres of desert wildlands.  It would also establish 250,000 acres of new wilderness areas throughout the California desert, and add 75,000 acres to  Death Valley National Park, the Mojave National Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park.  Earlier iterations of the bill have already impacted how the BLM is managing the desert, essentially establishing de facto conservation areas within the footprints of the two new proposed monuments.  Solar and wind energy applications proposed along the Route 66 corridor between Ludlow and Goffs, for example, have since been abandoned or are unlikely to be processed because they would fall within the boundary of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument.


However, the bill also includes a provision that could open up other lands in California to development.  Hundreds of thousands of acres of land managed by the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) are interspersed throughout desert conservation areas established by the original California Desert Protection Act of 1994, as well as the conservation areas that would be established under the CDCRA of 2015 (see the light blue squares on the map above).  California has not been able to develop and profit from these stranded parcels because they are surrounded by Federally protected conservation lands.  The new bill would require the Department of Interior to make a good faith effort to acquire those stranded CSLC lands within ten years by swapping them for other Federal lands in the state.  The exchange would ensure the integrity of desert conservation lands, but encourage development - renewable energy or mining, for example - on the Federal lands that the California acquires as part of the exchange.  What is not clear is which Federal lands in California will be most vulnerable to exchange, and thus, development. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Soda Mountain: A Test of Landscape Level Planning

The Bureau of Land Management is expected to conclude its environmental review of the Soda Mountain Solar project - one of the most contentious utility-scale solar projects currently being reviewed for construction on public lands - any day now.  The release of the final environmental impact statement for the Soda Mountain Solar project is overdue, almost certainly a result of inter-agency wrangling following the publication of the draft environmental analysis that underplayed the potential impact of the project on natural springs critical to desert wildlife, and the area's potential to restore habitat connectivity for bighorn sheep.  Also at stake is whether or not the BLM will ignore landscape-level planning that has identified the proposed solar project site as critical for wildlife.

The sweeping creosote bush and white bursage scrub pictured above would be graded and bulldozed for the Soda Mountain Solar project.  Photo by Michael E. Gordon.

Wildlife Crossing or Industrial Zone?

The Department of Interior has pursued a “landscape-scale approach to identify and facilitate investment in key conservation priorities in a region” (Secretarial Order 3330) to avoid the type of conflict presented by the proposed Soda Mountain Solar project and to protect wildlife that face increased threats as a result of climate change.  The draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) - Interior's flagship landscape-scale planning effort - stresses the need for a bighorn sheep crossing at Interstate-15 between the Soda Mountains and Cronese mountains to restore bighorn sheep habitat connectivity. (DRECP, Appendix C, pages 9, and 38-39)  These plans are embedded in the DRECP's biological goals and objectives that provide the foundation for the BLM's conservation efforts in the California desert for the next 25 years.  Interior will now have to choose whether to follow the biological goals and objectives of a landscape-level planning effort in which it is heavily invested, or give the go-ahead for bulldozers to once again threaten the intactness of an ecosystem.

Biologists note that the proposed wildlife crossing at Soda Mountains is important for bighorn sheep because the species is beginning to experience genetic isolation as a result of highways preventing intermingling of sheep populations across the desert.  No other location along Interstate 15 is likely to have as much success encouraging bighorn sheep migration and inter-mingling, and if populations of bighorn sheep remain more isolated they can become more vulnerable to disease and extirpation.  This is why landscape-level planning is so important - to identify these very conservation priorities and ensure a resilient ecosystem.  BLM approval of the Soda Mountain Solar project would undermine the DRECP before it is even finalized, and once again confirm criticism that science takes a back seat to industry influence.

A video by the Arizona Game and Fish Department underscores the potential to restore habitat connectivity with wildlife crossings, like this one over Highway 93 in Arizona.


The Soda Mountain Solar project would pose a number of other threats to wildlife.  The project would drain groundwater and likely endanger natural springs at Zyzzx that are home to the endangered Mohave tui chub (a small fish endemic to the Mojave) and where bighorn sheep slake their thirst.  To make way for the giant mirrors, Bechtel would bulldoze nearly 3.4 square miles of the creosote bush scrub habitat in between Interstate-15 and the Soda Mountains, which currently provides habitat for kit fox and western burrowing owls.

Bechtel Ignoring Alternative Locations

The  National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency both submitted letters critical of the BLM's environmental analysis, and community and conservation groups have implored Interior and Bechtel to consider alternative locations for the solar project.  Bechtel does not yet have a power purchase agreement with a utility company willing to buy electricity from the project, so Bechtel has time to consider a less destructive location.  But the environmental impact statement dismisses other locations, in part because Bechtel claims that it is too difficult to find private lands large enough to accommodate its 358 megawatt project close enough to transmission lines.

Bechtel's claim regarding the lack of alternative locations is clearly misleading; there are several large-scale solar projects under construction or completed on private lands, to include Sun Power's 579 megawatt Solar Star project in the Antelope Valley.  And Bechtel has not even secured an interconnection agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the company that owns the transmission lines running near the Soda Mountains.  So the value of the nearby transmission lines is hypothetical, and the inability to find a feasible alternative site on private lands is dubious. 

One thing is for sure,  Bechtel and BLM put much less rigor into consideration of alternative locations than the DRECP put into identifying the Soda Mountain area as important for wildlife.  Yet Bechtel may just get its way, natural springs may dry up, and we will lose an opportunity to restore bighorn sheep migration across the Mojave.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Much Is Rooftop Solar Worth?

While we were focused last month on reviewing thousands of pages of proposed land management plans that would encourage utility-scale renewable energy projects across the California and Nevada desert, a seemingly obscure ruling by an administrative law judge quietly dismissed a key argument activists use in defense of wildlands and wildlife - that distributed generation is a better alternative to utility-scale renewable energy because it does not require the destruction of intact wildlands.  The ruling (.pdf) was part of an initial step by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to determine the price utility companies pay for energy generated by rooftop solar projects, known as net-metering.

Reading the statements and briefs submitted by various interests involved in CPUC's effort to determine how much rooftop solar is worth can seem almost perfunctory and sober to someone who cares a lot about the landscapes affected by large-scale energy generation of any kind - fossil fuels and renewables.  I imagine it would feel the same way for soldiers and citizens of two war-torn countries if they had to listen to their elites banter back and forth in protocol-smothered negotiations seeking token face-saving measures to allow peace.  Do the people at the table understand the consequences and implications of the outcome?  With mountains on the east coast stripped of their coal to feed noxious power plants, and mountains in the west capped with hundreds of 400 foot tall bird and bat-killing wind turbines to power our air conditioners, rooftop solar is an obvious escape from the violence of our current energy paradigm that has ravaged our land and wildlife over the past century.  The value that CPUC ultimately sets on the energy generated from solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots will affect how much and how quickly we can generate energy in our cities, rather than destroy our wildlands.

Here is some context for what CPUC is doing.  Today, if someone in California installs solar panels on their home or business they can benefit from lower utility bills, and they will be compensated at the full retail rate for any surplus energy generated by the solar panels that is shared with the grid.  However, CPUC was tasked by California legislators in 2013 to determine an accurate value for the energy generated by rooftop solar panels (I will call it rooftop solar, but a person might have panels installed over parking lots, or in their own backyard).  As you might expect, utility companies want the value to be much lower to protect their own outdated business model.

A pile of Joshua Trees removed to make way for the Alta Wind Energy Center near Mojave, California.  Photo by Friend of Mojave.
Utility companies argue that people with rooftop solar panels do not pay their fair share of what it costs to maintain a large and expensive transmission and distribution grid, as if every component of that destructive system is assumed to be desired and necessary.  What utility companies do not say is that they oppose a fair value for rooftop solar because such compensation will encourage more people to install rooftop solar panels, and when more people generate their own energy, utility compy profits nose-dive.  Why?  Because utility companies make their money on building remote, centralized power plants that require new transmission infrastructure.  If a utility company upgrades or builds new transmission lines, not only do they charge ratepayers for the material and labor, but the utilities are also allowed to collect a roughly 10% rate of return on the infrastructure.  That is a higher rate of return than most businesses could expect from their investments, but utility companies receive this rate as default because it it set by California regulators.  That is why central station power plants built in the remote desert are a dream come true for utility companies - they get to justify expensive (and thus, profitable) upgrades to the transmission system.  We pay the costs, we lose wildlife and land, and a select few get wealthier.

Victor Valley College installed solar over some of its parking lots, generating clean energy and saving money on its energy bills. A much more sane alternative to bulldozing desert wildlands.
So the December administrative law ruling is contentious because it identifies the scope of factors that will be considered in determining the value of rooftop solar.  While the ruling did indicate that the avoided transmission costs should be included in the consideration of rooftop solar's value, the judge ruled that avoided land use impacts would not be considered.  In a statement from Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company opposed the inclusion of avoided land use impacts and avoided societal costs of carbon as "illusory or ill-defined."  Illusory!  Bulldozers scraping deserts and mountains are far from illusory.  And the health impacts of fossil fuel plants are obvious to those that suffer asthma or living with the effects of climate change.  The utility companies want CPUC to treat rooftop solar as existing in some sterile vacuum where the underlying assumption is that central station power plants and a behemoth transmission grid are necessities, and where people are "customers" and not hikers, campers, and individuals that care about wildlands and healthy communities. 

This photo shows less than one-third of the Ivanpah Solar project in the Mojave Desert.  Nearly 5.6 square miles of high quality and diverse Mojave Desert habitat was bulldozed or mowed down to make way for this project far from our cities.  It required a multi-million dollar transmission line upgrade.
The immense societal costs of fossil fuels - such as avoided carbon emissions and health impacts - may be considered in the valuation of rooftop solar, but it is not clear to what extent.  The ruling in December, however, made it clear that avoided land use impacts would not be considered.  Determining a value of rooftop solar without appropriately acknowledging land use impacts and the societal costs of fossil fuel generation would embed a considerable flaw in California's energy market.  Land use impacts of both utility-scale fossil fuels and renewable energy are a key reason distributed generation - such as rooftop solar - should constitute a larger bulk of our generation capacity.  Encouraging robust deployment of rooftop solar and avoiding destruction of the land can address a number of environmental problems, including habitat loss, dust pollution (PM10) caused by ground disturbing activities,  groundwater depletion and contamination, and loss of outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Habitat loss is chief among these impacts, and it is recognized as one of the most critical threats to many wildlife species; building utility-scale energy plants adds to the problem.  The Ivanpah Solar project alone destroyed nearly 5.6 square miles of amazing desert wildlands, and now burns birds and insects in super-heated air created by its mirrors.   First Solar is now adding to the destruction in the Ivanpah Valley, bulldozing several more square miles of an important desert tortoise habitat corridor, and one of the company's two projects has already displaced over 150 of the the beleaguered animals.  It is difficult to put a monetary value on this destruction, but both companies have paid a total of tens of millions of dollars in a failed attempt to compensate for the destruction.
If you want to follow the CPUC proceeding (known as "R1407001") you can read documents and subscribe to receive e-mail updates here.  CPUC is expected to determine a value by December 2015, but you can see above that important decisions are being made much sooner. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tortoise Toll Mounts at Nevada Solar Project

First Solar's Silver State South project has displaced over 152 desert tortoises, according to data obtained by Basin and Range Watch, and this toll is expected to rise since construction crews have not yet finished bulldozing the threatened animal's habitat.  The Silver State South solar project is being built just east of Primm, Nevada on 3.7 square miles of intact Mojave Desert habitat that biologists have determined to be a key corridor for the desert tortoise - facilitating genetic flow for the species that is important for its survival in the face of many anthropogenic threats, including climate change.

A giant cholla cactus on the site of First Solar's Silver State South Solar project.  This cactus' size suggests it has survived for a long time in the arid and harsh climate of the Mojave Desert, but it will be destroyed to make way for an energy project that allows us to charge our iPhones and run our air conditioners.  The same solar panels that will displace this desert habitat can just as easily, and more efficiently be placed on rooftops or over parking lots.
Of the 152 tortoises displaced, 63 are adult and 89 are juvenile, indicating that First Solar chose a bad location for its solar project.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, the project is expected to displace as many as 115 adult desert tortoises, and the Department of Interior will likely have to halt construction and re-evaluate impacts if the number of adult tortoises found exceeds 107.   Although many of these tortoises will be relocated to other parts of the desert, their chances for survival are dim because they will compete with other tortoises for resources and be more vulnerable to predators.  Environmental groups sought to halt the solar project earlier this year because of its poor location, but failed to secure an injunction from the court.


The Silver State South solar project further underscores the need for better planning and a focus on policies that encourage solar in our cities - such as solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots - rather than solar on desert wildlands.  Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the southern Nevada region that proposes to encourage energy and mining development on even more of the tortoise's habitat.