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Showing posts from April, 2010

Calico Solar Avoiding Responsibility for Environmental Damage?

In a document submitted by Calico Solar LLC (Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy), the company proposes weakening conditions proposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) requiring it to conserve nearby Mojave Desert wilderness to compensate for the loss of endangered species.   The proposed Calico Solar power project would displace or kill at least 100 desert tortoises currently located on the site, in addition to several other special status species, including desert kit fox, burrowing owl and foxtail cactus.

In the original conditions proposed by the CEC Staff, Calico Solar would have to purchase and conserve 14,018 acres of desert tortoise habitat elsewhere in the Mojave to make up for the loss of wildlife and habitat on the proposed site.  However, in the document submitted by Tessera Solar and Calico Solar LLC, the company lowers the acreage for which it is responsible to 11,658 acres on "BIO-17", which is the designation for the condition requiring the company to c…

Threatened Vistas

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Among the Mojave Desert treasures at stake as energy companies lay claim to vast tracts of BLM-managed desert wilderness are relatively unspoiled scenic vistas.  The view below was taken at dusk in the protected Mojave National Preserve.  Only a stretch of the lonely Kelbaker Road is visible in the distance and leading off to the west of creosote scrub and lava flows.  The California Desert Protection Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein, could help preserve more Mojave treasures before they are bulldozed by improperly sited industrial-scale energy development.  In the meantime, it is up to the California Energy Commission (CEC) and science-based surveys of Mojave and Colorado Desert resources to prevent the "solar rush" from trampling irreplaceable wilderness and wildlife.

Initial Ridgecrest Solar Workshop Read-Out

A reader of this blog posted a brief summary of the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project public workshop held 23/24 April to address questions about the proposed site on issues of water, soil, transportation etc (pretty much everything except biological resources, which will be covered on 3 and 4 May.  See the original post here.)

What is striking is that the water usage of the Ridgecrest site, which is a dry-cooled plant (so presumably it is much more water efficient than other proposed solar sites) would still have enormous impacts on ground water.  Ridgecrest's consumption of approximately 150 acre feet a year is dwarfed by the consumption of the proposed Abengoa Solar site near Barstow and Helendale, which would consume nearly 1,077 acre-feet per year. 

If you could not make it to the 23/24 April Public Workshop, you can attend the 3rd or 4th May workshop focused on biological resources at Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM. 

Comment from Laura about the recent public workshops:
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Desert Xpress Train Nearing Construction; Mag-Lev Still an Option?

I've written before on two competing high speed rail trains proposed for the Mojave Desert, which would connect Victorville and Las Vegas.   According to the developers of Desert Xpress, their high speed rail project is close to breaking ground and could be operating in 2013.  What is not clear is whether or not the Desert Xpress would take the place of the proposed Mag-Lev train or if they could offer duplicate mass transit service crossing the Mojave.  The Mag-Lev train reportedly received nearly 7 billion dollars in financial backing from China.  

The draft environmental impact statement for the Desert Xpress was published last year, and indicates that the route mostly stays close to Interstate 15.  However, sections of the route would veer away from the I-15 into creosote scrubland, and even cross the Ivanpah Valley in the vicinity of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.   The route would also traverse the edges of Desert Wildlife Management Areas as well as …

Last Earth Day for Ivanpah

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a lot of potential change for the Mojave Desert landscape over the next year with so many proposed industrial projects.  Ivanpah is the solar project furthest along in the California Energy Commission (CEC) certification process and it looks like it will receive it's approval, although hopefully with plenty of mitigation conditions. 

The two photos below were taken last month in Ivanpah, and include construction and survey markers already on the proposed site.   If the CEC gives it's final approval, construction equipment could me mowing this land by late Fall 2010.


Are Mega-Solar Farms Viable?

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I was looking at the Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Statement, and the California Energy Commission (CEC) Staff included some maps of other major energy projects proposed for the Northeastern Colorado Desert.  Some of the projects that have been proposed by have not begun CEC review are massive, and dwarf sites that have already been deemed to be harmful to desert wilderness in California.  As the mega-sites--some of which are several times larger than LAX--begin the biological surveys we are bound to learn of potential consequences for the desert that are far greater in magnitude than we have seen with other projects covered on this blog.

Some of the solar sites well into the CEC/BLM review process that have been featured on this blog are large in their own right.  Ivanpah--located in the Eastern Mojave--will have a site footprint of approximately 3,200 acres.  The Palen project--in the Colorado Desert--will have a footprint of approximately 2,970 acres.   Ridgecrest …

LA Planning Solar Development Near Palmdale

The Board of Commissioners for the Los Angeles World Airports is considering leasing land it owns near Palmdale and Lancaster to solar energy developers.  It's not entirely clear where the land is located, but according to recent statements, it is likely near the Palmdale regional airport and US Air Force Plant 42.  Most of the land in that area would probably be considered disturbed, so perhaps prime solar siting territory.  The only problem would be if the land is actually to the east of the city where there are actually a few wildlife sanctuaries.  Much of the Western Mojave (in the vicinity of Victorville/Palmdale/Ridgecrest) is so close to population centers that the wildlife in this part of the Mojave could be considered to be under more pressure than the Eastern portion of the desert.

Public Workshops for Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), there will be four public workshops held to discuss the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The workshops will give members of the public an opportunity to discuss or learn more about the recently published staff assessment and environmental impact statement for the project.   The first pair of workshops in April will address water, soil, visual, air, land use, and traffic issues.   The second pair of workshops in May will address biological resources.   You can read more about the staff assessment and EIS on a previous post on this blog.

The workshops will be held on 22 April AND 23 April, and on 3 May and 4 May (biological issues) at the Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM on each day.  You can also call into the workshop if you cannot attend in person.  The following information is from the CEC e-mail notice:

*Who*: The staff of the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will jointly hold a public works…

Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Summary

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Once again I'll stray from the namesake of the blog and address an industrial project proposed for the Colorado Desert (a subzone of the Sonoran Desert).  Since the recent gold rush of solar projects will have impacts that affect species that roam to and from the Mojave Desert and neighboring Colorado Desert, I've been tracking projects throughout southern California.

The Palen Solar Power Project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley in California would have significant impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.  Basin and Range Watch actually has an excellent summary of the most important points to take away from the EIS, and you can check it out at this link to their site.  As noted in the California Energy Commission (CEC) report, and summarized by Basin and Range Watch, the transport of sand through the valley would be impeded by the project if it is built as proposed.  This would affect approximately 1,400 acres of sand dune habitat downwind from the site.  This is significa…

Mojave camping trip part 2: Cima to Granite Hills

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Picking up on my previous post covering my late March camping trip in the Mojave National Preserve, I last left you as we came off Aiken Mine Road, turning onto Cima Road.  For those that have visited the Preserve in the past, you'll know that the Teutonia Peak is one of the most popular hikes on Cima Road.  I had already hiked the peak during a previous trip, so we continued on down Cima Road en route to Kelso Depot for a refreshment before we scouted out a camping site. 


It's always impressive to see the Joshua Tree woodland in the Cima dome area.  Where I grew up in Victorville the Joshua Trees are thicker, more robust and probably taller (on average), but much more sparse than in Cima.  The trees in Cima are thinner and shorter, but obviously the ecosystem fits the "woodland" description quite well! 

I was excited when we got to Kelso Depot and we spotted the first desert dandelion.  I know, it's kind of nerdy, but I have not seen a desert dandelion in a long…

Erasing Wilderness and Belittling America

I've come across a few instances of press articles and editorials that criticize the California Energy Commission's (CEC) proposed biological conditions imposed on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, and the CEC Staff's recommendation against the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The criticism contends that economic development is held up for the sake of "squirrels" and "turtles", referring to the endangered Mojave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.  The argument assumes that all business decisions are wise ones and that our country should essentially grant right of way to industrial development wherever the private sector points on the map.

I have two problems with these critics.

1.) America's wilderness is at a premium these days.  The open tracts of desert and forest, and the various species of flora and fauna that keep it a healthy wilderness, embody the original America that inspired and challenged earlier generations to innovate and…

Redefining Success in Ivanpah

On 1 April, the California Energy Commission Staff posted its "opening brief" for the final consideration of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System site proposed for the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Overall, it continues the trend that I've posted about before on this blog -- that the CEC is likely to rule in favor of BrightSource Energy building an approximately 3,237 acre solar field on biologically important public land.   The next and final steps will be important in determining how much the private energy firms will be held accountable for mitigation procedures if they choose to develop on public land that is of biological value.  It is in the interest of the public that energy firms, such as BrightSource, that propose building on land that holds so many threatened biological resources should be required to pay for conservation measures that can off-set the damage done by the project.

The CEC Staff's opening brief may be followed by a brief from BrightSour…

Mojave Camping Trip part 1: Kelbaker to Cima

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Just getting around to giving a read-out on my late March camping trip in the Mojave National Preserve.   We started out with a drive to the lava cinder cones in the western portion of the preserve. Lots of shrubs blooming along the road, and some wildflowers here and there.  Plenty of greenery on the desert floor amidst the lava flows and the cacti looked fresh and ready for the spring.

The lava tube is definitely worth checking out.  It's just a short walk from Aiken Mine Road.  The rough cinder walls of the tube are broken in spots at the top, allowing a flood of light to enter.

The cinder cone area is scattered with creosote and Yucca, with some ephemeral washes coursing through the lava flows.
You can see in the picture above that the sky was clear, although that came at a cost.  Plenty of wind across the Preserve that day.    After the lava tube we continued East on Aiken Mine Road -- a dirt road that connects Kelbaker Road and Cima Road.  If you check out, go slow and stay on…

Blooms in the Mojave National Preserve

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I promised a read-out of my camping trip to the Mojave National Preserve -- I have not gotten around to summarizing the trip yet.  But I can say that the Preserve should be seeing some nice wildflower blooms this weekend or next.  When I was there the ground was green and there were fields of yellow and purple, but many of the cactus and other blooms had not peaked.  Here are shots of some of the flowers I photographed during the trip, weekend of March 26.

Not sure what species are in the first picture below, but they were a brilliant, almost neon color that stand out near the lava flows in the western portion of the preserve.  Second photograph I believe is Indian Paintbrush near Cima Dome.  The third were very tiny white flowers blanketing parts of the ground near Granite Hills.  If you did not scrutinize the ground you could miss them entirely.  Fourth photo of some white flowers in a shrub.  The fifth photo was actually taken at the Ivanpah site -- to me it almost looks like the B…

Calico Solar Environmental Impact Deemed Significant

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The Calico Solar (formerly SES Solar One) project proposed for the Pisgah area was deemed to have significant impacts on biological resources, according to the draft environmental impact statement produced by the California Energy Commission (CEC).   The Calico Solar project, which would be built on approximately 8,230 acres of Mojave Desert public land.

Unlike with the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project staff assessment (see previous post) where the CEC openly recommended against construction on the proposed site, the CEC Staff did not make an outright recommendation on Calico Solar.  The CEC Staff made it clear, however, that the environmental impacts would be significant under current environmental laws, and if construction goes forward Calico Solar would have to implement substantial mitigation and adhere to several conditions in order to reduce the environmental impact to "less than significant" levels.   The Staff also noted that the Calico Solar "reduced acre…