Saturday, March 13, 2010

CEC Assesses Massive Colorado Desert Solar Project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently released it's draft Staff Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement for the Blythe Solar project, an industrial-scale site that would disturb approximately 7,030 acres of Colorado Desert.  The site is just west of Blythe and would sit in the middle of the Palo Verde Mesa next to the McCoy Mountains.   In summary,  the environmental impact statement points out that the most significant impacts of the site would be the loss of desert washes--which are important to the maintenance and sustainability of desert aquifers--and the loss of desert tortoise and Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizard habitat.

The up-side is that the plant is near populated and agricultural areas, reducing its impact on uninterrupted wilderness, and would produce up to 1000MW of renewable energy once all four proposed portions of the site are online.  However, the substation that would be required would decimate dozens of acres of dune habitat, on which 57 Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizards were spotted during surveys in 2009.   The site also encompasses approximately 175 acres of a sensitive habitat community called "desert dry wash woodland", which provides a haven for several species, to include coyote, kit fox, and bobcat.

During a survey in 2009 only one active desert tortoise was identified in the disturbance area, and one burrowing owl, although the site contains dozens of burrows.  Furthermore, as a commenter on this blog recently noted, wildlife surveys can be imperfect and can miss a substantial portion of a site's inhabitants based on timing, season, etc.  The CEC determined that the site contained low to moderate quality desert tortoise habitat, and proposed a 1:1 mitigation ration, which would require the company to purchase approximately 7,000 acres of off-set conservation land.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, I didn't realize so many Fringe-toed lizards and habitat would be impacted. I'll have to get down there some time to check this out. SES Calico (Solar 1) fragments a good chunk of west-central Mojave Fringe-toed lizard habitat. Some west Mojave populations have been extirpated as at El Mirage Dry Lake, and the Northern clade of Mojave Fringe-toed lizards is in line for potential listing. Now this.

    Thanks for covering this one, too many projects!

    Laura Cunningham

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  2. hi Laura,
    You can find that reference in the SA/DEIS in section C. 2-29 (Biological Resources section). The fringe-ntoed were spotted in the proposed substation and transmission corridor "south of the I-10". According to the report, the Staff also noted that of the 630,121 acres of Northeast Colorado Desert designated as fringe-toed habitat, nearly 16% could be affected by "foreseeable future projects," to include Blythe Solar.

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