Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Another Nail in the Coffin for Ivanpah Valley Wildlife

Today the California Energy Commission (CEC) posted another update on its consideration of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). The CEC Staff assessed that even though the proposed solar site presents significant negative impacts to visual resources, and significant cumulative impacts to land use, and traffic, the staff deemed that the need to develop renewable energy to combat global warming was an "overriding consideration".  Note that the CEC Staff no longer considers the site to pose any significant impact to biological resources.  Per my previous post, the CEC deemed proposed mitigation conditions and BrightSource Energy's altered footprint to sufficiently off-set the likely loss of special status plants and animals.

To the CEC's credit, the document did warn other energy companies not to take Ivanpah's "overriding consideration" assessment as a condition that would apply to other solar projects.  The CEC cited other proposed industrial and commercial development in the Ivanpah valley as one reason why an override was approved for ISEGS.   As I have mentioned in previous posts, this reasoning appears to ignore or accept the gradual degradation of Mojave Desert wilderness.  If one of the primary reasons that Ivanpah is approved is that the site is only one of many dominoes falling in the area, it calls into question the efficacy and sincerity of 1.) assessing cumulative impacts during the certification process and 2.) the ability of either State or Federal agencies to actually encourage private developers to consider less damaging alternative sites.   Even though BrightSource is likely to have a high tab for mitigation conditions (they are required to purchase thousands of acres of conservation land, for example), the certification process could have addressed alternative sites much sooner, which could have resulted in a better location or configuration-- saving BrightSource money, and sparing dwindling Mojave Desert wildlife and open space.

3 comments:

  1. My opinion is that the CEC will most likely approve several more of these. Once the next round of billion dollar plus loan garuntees are distributed by the Obama Administration, the CEC will be under pressure by the Terminator to approve some very bad projects. The two that are going to have major probelms IMO with the CEC are Genesis and Abengoa because they both have been refusing the CEC's requests to go dry cooled.

    In the case of Ivanpah, it looks over, but it really is not. There are some other details that are likely to come up.

    But in reality, if the CEC is just going to create the illusion of choice by holding hearings and public comment when we all know they are planning to approve all of these projects, than why not just abolish the agency and save the tax payers some money?

    I do, however, know that we have not heard the last of this. Don't give up yet on Ivanpah. There is still the NEPA process and changing that will be more difficult...

    Good articles you have going here. Thanks.

    Kevin Emmerich
    Basin and Range Watch

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  2. I mocked these earlier stories when they came out about people against this solar project. I didn't understand what the problem was on putting this in the middle of a dessert. I am from Ohio and we are killing ourselves with coal here. But after just visiting the dessert this week (I was in Las Vegas for a conference and drove down with my wife) I get it. It is a beautiful site with so much wildlife and diversity. Why can't we just put solar panels on rooftops across the country? I guess they aren't near as efficient as a project like this, but the negative effects would be minimal.

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  3. thanks Kyle. I grew up in the desert and spent countless days exploring the open desert around our home when I was young. I've lived on the east coast now and can see how easy it is for folks to take the desert, its beauty, and its rich wildlife for granted. Too often it is an ecosystem portrayed in popular media as devoid of life. It's splendor may not be as inviting as Shenandoah in the fall, the banks of the Mississippi in the spring or winter in Grand Teton, but it can afford visitors a solitude and inspiration that feels more precious and hard-earned than you find elsewhere. I'm glad you and your wife made it down from Vegas to check out the Mojave!

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