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 develop. From early explorers, to pioneers, trappers and miners. Stagecoaches to railroad companies, to vast highways, and aerospace. Saloons to casinos, and ranchers and farmers. All saw the wilderness in the West as a blank slate for their individual ambitions. These same ambitions ultimately threatened the source of their inspiration. Paving over wilderness with predictable expanses of strip malls and industry will deprive each future American of a theater of life that fires up individualism. Life without wilderness is one where an American will marvel at a new caffeinated beverage blend, or be delighted by a new TV series, but will never know what it's like to fall asleep under a thick blanket of stars and wake up to coyote howls in the morning. So please spare me the "turtles and squirrels stopped my business" crap. That wildlife has a more important place in the American spirit than any single plot of glass and steel, which can be replicated anywhere. Wilderness cannot be built.
2.) If the turtles and squirrels got in your way, it's because your company failed to do its research. There are millions of acres in the southwest suitable for solar energy, and your company decided to ask the Federal Government for permission to build on public land that includes some of the most endangered species in the Mojave. Admittedly there are policy tools that compelled you to rush into your siting decision --namely the federally backed loan guarantee deadline--but other companies managed to find good sites. Abengoa and Beacon Solar, to name a couple, are applying to sites on already disturbed land of poor habitat quality. There is plenty of similarly suitable land in the west. You might point out that both Abengoa and Beacon are encountering some resistance, as well. Why are they meeting resistance? Even though they found ideally suitable land, they want to cool their solar operations with hundreds of millions of gallons of water per year. In drought ridden California. In the middle of the desert. Ignoring dry-cooling technology. It has never been an ideal of this country to subsidize poor business decisions. Granted, the past two administrations have done that (bank bailouts), but it does not encourage innovation or bolster common sense. It rewards bad business practice. So why should the CEC, the State of California, or the American public support your bad business decision?
If you find yourself spending millions to off-set the loss of our "turtles and squirrels", then do not go whining to the press. Go back to business school or go camping.