CEC Staff Recommends Against Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

In the California Energy Commission's (CEC) Staff Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project, the CEC recommended against the project, citing the potential damage to biological resources could not be mitigated.   Solar Millenium proposed building a 250MW dry-cooled solar energy plant on a 3,995 acre right-of-way just west of Ridgecrest -- approximately 2,000 acres would be disturbed for the site construction and operation.  Overall, the CEC Staff's recommendation is a very positive sign that the certification process can account for the need to preserve wilderness and biological treasures in the Mojave Desert.  Despite the Staff's assessment, the final decision will not be made until after the CEC holds evidentiary hearings and the presiding member makes a final decision.  The staff assessment is not a final verdict.

As mentioned in an earlier post examining preliminary biological surveys of the site, the Ridgecrest project would displace at least 40 desert tortoises located on the site.  The desert tortoises on the site belong to the most threatened segment of the Mojave population--the Kramer-Fremont unit.  This genetic unit of the desert tortoise exists in the far western Mojave, which is some of the most fractured and trampled Mojave habitat.   Thus, the existence of 40 desert tortoise belonging to this unit on the proposed site is quite significant, as noted in the Environmental Impact Statement.

In addition to jeopardizing desert tortoises, the site would also infringe upon habitat for the endangered Mojave ground squirrel, and the Western burrowing owl.   Desert kit fox were also spotted on the site during the survey.   CEC Staff particularly noted that the site could interrupt a key wildlife corridor of importance to maintaining a healthy Mojave ground squirrel population.

CEC staff concluded that the Ridgecrest Solar Power project would incur damages to the Mojave Desert that could not be recovered or compensated through mitigation.  Nonetheless, the CEC staff proposed conditions for certification in the even that the CEC presiding member ultimately approves of the project.   If the project were to be approved, and the CEC proposed conditions accepted, Solar Millenium would have to fund the purchase of at least 10,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat for conservation and off-set.  This is a 5:1 "mitigation" ratio (mitigation is in quotes because the CEC staff concluded the sufficient mitigation would not be possible for this site).  In comparison, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the eastern Mojave could be subjected to a 3:1 mitigation ratio.  The land acquisition condition would be in addition to an array of other conditions, such as biologist monitoring of construction, and a raven monitoring and control plan. 

I'll keep you all posted on any further developments in the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project. If anyone has any photos of the site are and wildlife there, feel free to forward them along to me and I'll post them on the site with proper attribution.

Comments

  1. Finally some great news. Excellent news, thanks very much for posting this. Speaking for myself only, it seems lately the only news out of Sacramento has been bad: for the Mojave and its' inhabitants, both plant and animal, this may be the start of something good.

    I really hope it is.

    Bill Mcdonald

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  2. Yeah, some common sense actually may apply! The Solar Millennium Plan was so lacking of reality as to be absurd. 30' foot wind fences, trucked in propane only 8% higher than piped NG, that graded, de-vegetated 80% compacted clay loaded soil would have more water retention than natural, etc. Did the lady even think a little about the gazillion little ant hills and kangaroo rat burros that suck all that water up? Not to mention the extra 2% sunlight would be burnt up by heating the transmission lines. As far as wild life there was a lot lacking, transitory bob-cat and sierra wildfire displaced birds of prey etc. Hope this thinking will last, I was think that the big O was going to force this down our throats like heath care.
    Hopefully this area can be used/protected as a mitigation for other solar projects!

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  3. definitely some good news -- let's hope the staff recommendation persuades the presiding member. Keep up the advocacy in the meantime, since we still have evidentiary hearings in this process, and more solar projects proposed for the Mojave -- some in good locations and others the result of bad siting decisions (just like Ridgecrest Solar Power Project!)

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  4. It occurs to me there isn't a single site on this planet that would be free of environmental concerns. It is imperative that we free ourselves from the bonds of foreign oil. The best options we have at the moment are Solar and Wind Energy and they must be implement in areas that have a lot of sun and wind respectively. The Indian Well Valley has a lot of sun, more than I care to experience. While it may not be the best location from an environmentalist stand point it is a great location to catch as much of the suns rays as possible. Don't get me wrong I'm rather fond of the Desert Tortoise, just last week I had an encounter with one in the Rademacher Hills south of Ridgecrest, but with Co2 levels rising and global temperatures along with it how long do you think it will be before it will be too hot and dry in the IWV for the Tortoise to survive?

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  5. You're right Thomas. No site is perfect. And we need to break free from our dependence on oil. But that does not mean we need to rush bulldozers into our open space. Solar energy harvesting does not have to mean rigid troughs of mirrors for endless miles -- it can be a versatile form of energy generation and power from the sun can be collected anywhere from rooftops, to parking lots and highway medians. Yes, some of the Mojave will be lost to industrial-scale solar energy sites. But there is enough knowledge and options out there that afford us the luxury of placing these sites in parts of the Mojave that are less important to the overall health of the ecosystem. The Ridgecrest site is not one of those places, unlike the Beacon solar site or even the Abengoa solar site, which are proposed for former agricultural land.

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