The California Energy Commission (CEC) released it's Staff Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Stirling Energy Systems (SES) Solar Two site earlier this month. SES Solar Two -- the twin of the Calico Solar site proposed for the Mojave Desert near Pisgah--is a proposed solar plant utilizing "SunCatcher" technology on nearly 6500 acres of land in the Colorado Desert, just West of El Centro. In its assessment of biological resource, the CEC Staff indicates that it prefers a reduced site footprint in order to minimize impacts on ephemeral washes and the Flat Tailed Horned Lizard (FTHL), which is considered a special status species.
CEC judged that the largest ecological impact the construction of SES Solar Two would have would be the alteration of hydrological features--primarily ephemeral washes--and how this could negatively affect the collection of State waters. SES provided "Drainage Avoidance Alternatives" which involved site footprints that avoided many of the ephemeral washes. In the Staff Assessment, the CEC indicates its preference for Drainage Avoidance Alternative #2, which would reduce the project size by nearly half to 3,153 acres, and reduce the number of "SunCatcher" solar dishes from approximately 30,000 to 16,915. CEC Staff also judged that Alternative #2 reduced the impact of the site on FTHL habitat by nearly 50%.
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The CEC certification process for Solar Two is ongoing, however, and a final determination has not yet been made concerning the ultimate configuration of the site. It is significant however that the Staff have already proposed such a considerable reduction in the site's footprint. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) also involves a reduced site footprint in order to spare special status plant species, although this proposal came from the applicant (BrightSource Energy) and only amounts to a 12% reduced footprint.