Mr. Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch recently noted in a comment on this blog how the California Energy Commission (CEC) appears to be bending over backward to accommodate an expedited certification process. As clarified in the comments, it appears that the energy companies (BrightSource, Solar Millennium, etc) are rushing to meet a deadline imposed in Washington mandating that projects break ground by the end of the year (2010) in order to qualify for Federal financial backing.
Underscoring Mr. Emmerich's point, a transcript posted on the Ridgecrest Solar Project site from an informational hearing, a Deputy Director from the CEC commented that the compressed timeline requested by the applicant (Solar Millennium in the case of Ridgecrest) was going to pose a strain on the CEC and other agencies--such as BLM, Fish and Wildlife, etc--involved in the certification process since the site chosen by Solar Millennium in Ridgecrest raises significant questions regarding biological resources. As noted in a previous post, the Ridgecrest site is rich in desert tortoise and likely a prime spot for Mojave ground squirrels.
From the transcripts of Mr. O'Brien's comments on 5 January:
"I just want to make the committee aware and, obviously, the applicant that the staff has concerns with the project schedule for the Ridgecrest project in front of us here. The major concern that we have, notwithstanding the fact that 12 months for any solar project would -- would represent a very, very fast schedule, are the biological issues associated with this project.
Mr. Anderson, our biologist, referred to those, desert tortoise, and also Mojave Ground Squirrel. Mojave Ground Squirrel connectivity issues I -- I think are significant issues that are going to be difficult to resolve in a timely manner. Obviously, from staff’s perspective and from the perspective of the other agencies appropriate mitigation is going to be needed.
So I just want to make sure the committee understands the difficult position I think that all the agencies here find ourselves in, in terms of trying to review this project and these other projects in a very, very expedited manner. And we can not move projects through in an expedited manner if, in fact, we have difficult issues that can not be quickly resolved.
And so the applicant, you know, needs to understand that. Obviously, the agencies will do everything we can to move this and other projects forward. But, obviously, there are issues outside of our control, and those issues are associated with the impacts of each one of these projects. Thank you."