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Showing posts from January, 2010

The Project Formerly Known as Solar One...

Updates on the certification process for two large-scale solar projects -- Solar One and Beacon Solar

The  850 megawatt and approximately 8,000 acre solar project previously titled "Solar One" proposed for the Pisgah, California area (just east of the Interstate 40 and Interstate 15 Junction) has adopted a new name -- Calico Solar Project as proposed by the newly re-named Calico Solar LLC (formerly SES LLC).   You can read my December posting on the preliminary environmental impact statement for the Calico site, but the short and dirty is that the site is host to the endangered Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard and Desert Tortoise. 

As of early January Calico Solar LLC  submitted additional information required by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for its application so we can expect to see more forward movement on the certification process.  They still have to submit a Desert Tortoise relocation and mitigation plan.  However, review of Calico LLC's documents from last year…

Mojave Desert Land Trust Offering Guided Hikes

The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is offering the public guided hikes, primarily in Joshua Tree National Park.  The hikes are $10 for MDLT members and $25 for non-members.  The late March hikes (during the predicted wildflower peak season) will probably go fast!  You can get more information at their website.

Ludlow...

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...Just one of many points of interest along the stretch of Route 66 that crosses through the Mojave Desert.  The town has seen better days, but Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) would place this town and many other places along the historic Route 66 within the boundaries of the Mojave Trails National Monument.  Ludlow was a water stop for the railroad as early as 1882, and also hosted miners with a hardy American spirit prospecting nearby hills for ore.

While much of the debate surrounding CDPA 2010 in the coming year is certain to focus on a parochially characterized clash between environmental and economic interests, we should not forget that within the Mojave Desert lies our national heritage intertwined with a natural heritage.  American Indians, settlers, homesteaders, the economic migrants of the Great Depression, and generations of military recruits and test pilots have all experienced the vast open wilderness and harsh solit…

Panorama Photos of Solar Energy Study Areas Available

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As many of you are probably already aware, the Federal Government is proposing Solar Energy study areas, whereby the government has designated areas throughout the southwestern United States to evaluate for the suitability of future solar energy development.  The upside to this program is that it would ideally encourage energy companies to consolidate development in specific areas rather than scattered all throughout the Mojave Desert, although the jury is still out regarding the environmental impact on the specific sites chosen by the Federal Government.

You can visit the website for the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) here, and you can also view panoramic photos of the sites being evaluated here.  If you check out the photographs for Pisgah, California, you'll see plenty of old lava flows, which will most likely host the endangered Mojave Desert Fringe-toed lizard.  That said, the site is located near agricultural fields and not far fro…

West Mojave Solar Proposal to be Water Intensive

Looking over the proposal for the Abengoa Solar's Mojave Solar project description indicates that this plant would use water cooling as opposed to the far more eco-friendly dry-cooling technology proposed in a number of other solar plants.  Just how much water are we talking about?  According to Abengoa Solar, approximately 1,077 acre-feet of water per year for each plant site.  There will be two plant sites.  I had to look it up myself, but a single acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons of water.  In total,  Abengoa's project would consume nearly 350 MILLION gallons of water.  I had to check my math twice.


View Untitled in a larger map

This is yet another sign of the immaturity of the solar siting situation in the Mojave Desert.  Companies are rushing to stake a claim without thinking about the impact of the project.  Abengoa was smart enough to locate their project on mostly abandoned agricultural fields, but they're making the same mistake as Beacon Energy…

BLM Open House at Needles Field Office

For those that can make it, the California Energy Commission just posted a notice that the BLM will hold an open house at its Field Office in Needles, California to address questions regarding the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.  Copies of the Draft Final Staff assessment and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be available.  This open house will also be a good chance to pose some questions regarding the BLM's holistic approach toward utility-scale solar energy siting and how it plans to balance preservation of desert wilderness and renewable energy needs.

The event will be held on 04 February, from 2-4 pm.  The point of contact for the event is Tom Hurshman, BLM Project Manager who can be reached at (970) 240-5345.

The announcement is posted on the CEC website and you can read about the Ivanpah project debate in my previous posts.

Review of Riverside County Solar Projects in Initial Stages

The California Energy Commission (CEC) invited the public to view three proposed solar energy sites near Blythe, California.  The three projects include:
1.) Rice Solar Power Project (Solar Reserve LLC asking for approximately 1,370 acres)
2.) Palen Solar Power Project (Solar Millenium asking for 5,200 acres)
3.) Blythe Solar Power Project (Solar Millenium asking for 9,400 acres)

It appears that Palen and Blythe will be the largest plants in terms of energy output (which usually equates to larger footprint in the desert, as well), and all three projects would utilize dry-cooling technology, reducing the amount of water taken from local aquifers.

If you want to follow the proceedings of each CEC review process you can clink on either three of the links above and sign up for the corresponding list-serve, or you can check back here for updates as I plan to keep track of the processes myself.  You can read this posting from November for background on the CEC process as it applied to a sep…

Cima Dome

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If you're looking for a good day hike, try Teutonia Peak trail located in the northern portion of Mojave National Preserve.  The photo above was taken from the trail, with a portion of the Cima Dome in the distance.

San Bernardino County Easing On ORV Rules?

As soon as 26 January(delayed vote) the San Bernardino County supervisors may vote to repeal an existing county ordinance (Ordinance 3973) that requires a permit for gatherings of 10 or more Off-Road Vehicle users on private property. This issue should fall into the property rights and public nuisance debate more than a Mojave Desert wilderness preservation issue, but it's a good hook to examine the current state of regulation and enforcement in ORV use in the Mojave Desert area in general.

As the Hi-Desert Star newspaper reported earlier this month, only six individuals have applied for the permits over the past 3 years.  Almost certainly more people have held gatherings that would meet the permit threshold that did not apply.   San Bernardino County may repeal the ordinance and it would take a great deal of pressure to argue that it remain in place, quite simply because it is most likely not an efficient mechanism to control or deter the public nuisance caused by large gathering…

Desert Rain

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For those note in Southern California this week, the Mojave Desert is receiving a good soaking from mother nature, hopefully boosting our chances for a colorful spring.

Here is a shot of Kelso Dunes taken from the Quail Basin trail head on 16 January -- just a day before the storms hit.


Ivanpah Wildlife, Visual Resources and Botany Hearings Completed

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According to someone testifying to protect rare natural resources in the Mojave Desert at the California Energy Commission (CEC) evidentiary hearings for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), the 11 January CEC hearing for the Ivanpah Solar Energy site lasted until nearly 10:30pm, and covered visual resources and the impacts on wildlife.  Today's hearing was scheduled to address botanical resources, which may present the greatest challenge to the CEC and BLM's consideration of granting right-of-way to BrightSource Energy, since the site selected by BrightSource happens to host several sensitive and rare plants.

The CEC Staff rebuttal to comments from environmental groups and BrightSource Energy spent considerable time addressing arguments requesting alternative site considerations and changes to the mitigation efforts directed at special status plant species. Most environmental inervenors argued for more effective measures to ensure that construction at Ivanpah…

Unfair Zoning in Fairview Valley?

An article in the Victor Valley Daily Press recently highlighted that 11 January was significant for another reason in the Mojave Desert (for the other reason, read here).  The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors designated 11 January as the last day for the public to comment on the environmental impact statement for the proposed development of a sub-division in Fairview Valley, located within the Apple Valley sphere of influence but in area where humans are outnumbered by Jackrabbits.


View Fairview Valley in a larger map


The Strata Equity Group proposes building nearly 3,000 homes in the area over the next 20-25 years, which would severely burden city services, existing transportation infrastructure, and add noise and air pollution.  The overall impact would be a dramatic shift for the way of life of current Fairview Valley residents, who cherish the seclusion and open vistas of the Mojave Desert on the fringes of the Victor Valley.

Although this is partly an environmental impa…

Ivanpah Solar Energy Hearings Progress

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For the many that were not able to attend the 11 January California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing addressing the Ivanpah Solar Energy hearing today, we will have to wait until the staff posts the comments and outcome of decisions regarding the impact of the Ivanpah site on the Mojave Desert's biological resources.  A review of the CEC Staff's initial rebuttal to the comments from BrightSource Energy request to water down many of the requirements holds promise that, even if Ivanpah is allowed to move forward, neither the State or the BLM will subsidize BrightSource for their poor choice in locations.


You may have read in an earlier Mojave Desert Blog posting about BrightSource Energy's complaints about the conditions imposed by the CEC, some of which demanded that the company mitigate for the loss of desert tortoise habitat, institute a raven management plan and a desert tortoise relocation plan.  The CEC rebuttal appears to hold fast to most of the biological resource con…

Mojave Desert Musings

Some noteworthy broadcasts in the Mojave Desert this week:

1.) Desert wildflower watchers are forecasting a great spring for the desert blooms.  You can read up on regular status reports on DesertUSA.  You can also learn more about blooming periods by region at the Digital Desert's website.

2.) The New York Times Greenwire Blog posted an assessment of Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010), emphasizing the legislation's intention to encourage more renewable energy development on military bases in the Mojave Desert (Fort Irwin, 29 Palms, Edwards AFB).

3.) A bird count sponsored by the National Audobon Society at Joshua Tree National Park counted a total of 3,067 birds across nearly 50 different species according to the Hi-Desert Star.

4.) The California Energy Commission (CEC) began its evidentiary hearings on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Site, and the hearings are set to continue on 11 January, with presentations from the Sierra Cl…

CDPA 2010: Product of NIMBY Environmentalists?

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One of the dynamics that will inevitably unfold over the next year--assuming Senator Feinstein is able to get her proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 before Congress for a vote--will be opponent's attempts to frame CDPA 2010 as the product of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) environmentalists looking to shut out economic development. Read about early signs of opposition here.

The portrayal of Feinstein's legislation by opponents almost certainly will over-simplify the field of stakeholders by labeling what is actually a diverse array of opinions as stubborn NIMBY environmentalists.  Although you can count this blogger as an early supporter of the legislation's intent, I hope you never read anything on this blog that over-simplifies the arguments against CDPA 2010...if you do, call me out on it.


The California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (which established Mojave National Preserve, and designated Joshua Tree and Death Valley as National Parks) provides a useful case …

Vote on Victorville Expansion Postponed

The Victorville City Council postponed a vote on a proposal to expand the City's sphere of influence by up to 32 square miles, according to the minutes of its 5 January meeting.  The proposal will now be addressed on 19 January after the Council discusses the proposal with San Bernardino County and the City of Apple Valley.  You can read more about the original proposal on this post.  A review of the City's proposal suggests the City seeks to maintain some open space within the proposed expansion, although the intent to spur more residential development along more of the Mojave River.

Here is an approximate reflection of the area that could be affected by the expansions of both Victorville and Helendale.


View Victorville-Helendale Expansions in a larger map

Victorville Plans 32 Square Mile Expansion

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In what would be one of the most significant municipal expansions in the West Mojave Desert in recent years, the City of Victorville will vote tonight (05 January) to expand its sphere of influence by up to 32 square miles.


The City's vote may be hurried by a similar plan by the City of Helendale to also expand its sphere of influence, conflicting with Victorville's proposal.  Victorville officials have already expressed their desire to bring resident development to the land, although San Bernardino County has expressed reservations with the extent of Victorville's proposed expansion, fearing that mineral and natural resources would be abandoned in favor of more residential growth.

Victorville's proposed sprawl is unfortunate given that the city can barely keep up with it's current growth, with rising crime and poor transportation infrastructure.  An expansion of the city's sphere of influence would only promote more unabated growth--abandoning the High Desert&#…

Rep. Jerry Lewis Set to Oppose CDPA 2010?

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Congressional Representative Jerry Lewis (41st District) has expressed concern that Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010) locks up too much desert land from potential energy development, mining, and military training, according to the Hi-Desert Star website.    Rep. Lewis' early opposition deserves some historical context.


The early California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (which created the Mojave National Preserve and upgraded Joshua Tree and Death Valley to National Park status) lacked compromise with some stakeholders-- recreational users, hunters, and ranchers.  Rep. Lewis took advantage of this and a hostile atmosphere toward environmental conservation among the newly empowered GOP-controlled congress to opposed the 1994 bill.  In the end, compromises were made and the 1994 CDPA passed, although Rep. Lewis budgeted only $1.00 to run the newly created Mojave National Preserve (MNP) in its infant years.

Rep. Lewis is signaling his i…