Ridgecrest Solar Site: Ivanpah of the West Mojave?

Preliminary surveys of the proposed site for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project in the western Mojave Desert indicate it is currently home to several sensitive species, even though it is not far from the outskirts of Ridgecrest.   The proposed facility would disturb roughly 2,000 acres, and would be situated on a site already crossed by some dirt roads, and adjacent to Highway 395.  During surveys in 2009,  however, biologists spotted approximately 50 desert tortoise, including 40 in the proposed disturbance area, and four active Kit fox burrows were also found.  An active burrow for an American Badger was discovered within the project buffer zone, and four primary burrows for the Western burrowing owl were found within the proposed disturbance area.

Although the endangered Mojave ground squirrel was not spotted during the surveys, biologists judged that there is a high likelihood that the squirrels occur on the site because of high quality habitat in the area, and the existence of Mojave ground squirrel within five miles of the site. Le Conte's thrasher and Loggerhead shrike were also present in the proposed site.

The Ridgecrest Solar Power Project would be composed of two solar fields--approximately 755 and 685 acres respectively--and power output would be 250MW.  The project would use dry-cooling technology.  Basin and Range Watch and the Western Watersheds Project have been granted a petition to intervene as of mid-February 2010.

The high number of desert tortoises already discovered in preliminary surveys and the likely presence of Mojave ground squirrel and Kit fox will likely translate into high mitigation costs and complicated translocation programs.  The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be published on 26 March 2010, although it seems that in order to propose robust and accurate mitigation procedures, more fidelity on the site's biological resources will be necessary.



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Comments

  1. The Ridgecrest power plant proposal seems to be proving that democracy is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Who does the CEC and BLM work for? On the confernece call considering scheduling yesterday, we found out that both the BLM and the CEC are bending over backwards to approve this by November of this year! The BLM said that they would really push for only a 30 day comment period after the DEIS over a 90 day comment period. Again, the public gets screwed. Consider that 99 percent of the people who live in Ridgecrest oppose the project due to extreme water use, obvious visual impacts, blocked access to private property, threats to Mojave ground squirrell and desert tortoise, impacts to cultural sites, etc..

    We asked that all deadlines be extended and all hearings and workshops be held in Ridgecrest over Sacramento.

    You can still submit comments. The CEC asked for comments on the call yesterday.

    Kevin Emmerich
    Basin and Range Watch

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  2. Thanks Kevin. In the transcripts for the ISEGS hearing I think it became evident that in BrightSource's case they needed to start construction by the end of the year in order to qualify for government financial backing. I imagine the same is the case for Ridgecrest.

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  3. Yes, the ARRA funding deadline is one of the primary problems with large scale energy development. Even the applicants for most renewable projects have been complaining about this deadline. The deadline was crafted in a far away land where the reality of the actual region was never even considered, let alone understood.

    However, why not use the ARRA deadline as an opportunity? The question is, can we push approval past 2010? Politically speaking, it seems like a done deal, but there is still language that states that applicants must resolve conflicts before they can be approved. As we all know, these conflicts are not even close to being resolved. In the case of Ridgecrest, NOBODY wants this project but the applicant and a few politicians in Sacramento and DC who are clueless to the issues. We will be taking on the Ridgecrest Solar Project to the end...
    p.s. thanks for covering this one too! and keep it up, the investors of these projects look on the Internet to see how feasible they are. I sure would never invest money in one of these projects.

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  4. Oops: The last comment was also from Kevin Emmerich, Basin and Range Watch.

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  5. Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. It certainly does not seem to be in keeping with democratic principles if the CEC feels it must rush to meet arbitrary deadlines. The Federal government put the cart before the horse in its attempt to incent renewable energy development with financial backing before it has even finished its solar energy development study areas, where such construction could be at least concentrated in areas deemed to have relatively less impact on the Mojave Desert ecosystem. Hence the chaotic "gold rush" for any open desert land. Perhaps Congress or even the executive branch could look into extending the deadline so that at least CEC could carry out more thorough investigations of the impacts on each site and give the public a better opportunity to voice its opinion instead of being muffled by Washington's cash.

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