Thursday, April 1, 2010

Calico Solar Environmental Impact Deemed Significant

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 acreage alternative" would alleviate much of the biological harm since it would occupy only 31% of the original proposed site.   The Staff assessment appeared to favor this alternative, although it's not clear if this alternative would be financially viable to Calico Solar since they would produce less energy.

If approved and constructed, Calico Solar may be required to fund the purchase of conservation land up to a 6:1 ratio totaling nearly 10,000 acres. The mitigation could cost Calico Solar well over $30,000,000 if the project is approved.

Among the Mojave Desert species that will be impacted by the site include possibly one hundred desert tortoises according to the company's own survey, at least 9 species of special status plants, endangered Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizard,  a golden eagle, and foraging habitat for Nelson's bighorn sheep.  Among the special status plants are small-flowered androstephium, Emory's crucifixion thorn, white-margined beardtongue, foxtail cactus, winged cryptantha, Utah vine milkweed, crowned muilla,  Coves’ cassia, and small-flowered sand-verbena.


Below: A screenshot of the Calico Solar original site boundaries from documents on the CEC website


Below: A screenshot of the reduced acreage boundaries (in red lines), with red and blue squares depicting the presence or sign of desert tortoise. The reduced acreage alternative avoids more of the biologically sensitive land.  From the CEC website and SA/DEIS.

4 comments:

  1. We were just out on the Calico site last weekend--the small-flowered androstephium are flowering beautifully on Phase 1. A friend saw a tortoise out near Hector Rd days before.

    Laura Cunningham

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  2. Shaun, I think this proves how prescient your post of 3/24 was when you mentioned a hope that the CEC staff would be more judicious in approving future solar licensing. Yes, very judicious in deed!

    You know I have been thinking I should take a trip out to Hector Rd for some time now...

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  3. Laura, your Basin and Range Watch site has a picture of a tortoise taken in rather "poor quality" habitat near California City. I had previously thought that some of the habitat on the Calico site may not be as great a quality, but the fact that Calico Solar would have to translocate at least 100 tortoises is concerning. If the Ft Irwin study is reflective of the stresses translocated tortoises endure, we're talking about the death of another 50 tortoises.

    Bill, if you head out there definitely bring your camera as you did with Ivanpah! It's great to see photos or video of these sites.

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  4. Another thing we noticed out there a is that the applicant's Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat map grossly underestimates the amount of potential habitat that is actually out there. I would say their map only represents one quarter of the suitable habitat for this species. We also believe that the configuration of the project will block the sand flow that maintains the dune habitat. If you climb to the top of some of the hills that have sand blow ups on them, you will notice that the lizard species' preferred finer sand is what is being transported the most. When they set up their solar dishes, that prevailing wind transported sand from the Mojave River will most likely not be able to accumulate as well. You also have to wonder how long those dishes will stay functional when they are being gradually sand blasted every day. Have you ever found a beer bottle that has been left of a desert dune for five years?

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