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.