Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems, the companies proposing to build the Calico Solar Power project in the Mojave Desert, filed details on an alternative layout for the site with the California Energy Commission (CEC). Although the companies claim that the reduced site footprint provides a 4000 foot wildlife corridor between the solar project and the Cady Mountains to allow desert tortoise and other species passage through the area, the maps presented in the documents filed with the CEC suggest that the layout falls short of this goal.
The Calico Solar Project is currently the largest solar project proposed for the Mojave Desert that is currently under review by the CEC and Bureau of Land Management for approval. The project would be built on public land and would be partially funded by the taxpayers. The original proposed project would take up 8,230 acres, and potentially displace or kill at least 100 desert tortoises, and jeopardize the white-margined beardtongue, a rare plant species found on the site. The alternative layout proposed by Tessera Solar brings the total size down to approximately 6000 acres, and would likely reduce (although not eliminate) impacts on desert tortoise and the white-margined beardtongue.
The alternative layout proposed by Tessera is intended to address concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Desert Tortoise Recovery Office and the Bureau of Land Management regarding wildlife mobility in the area following construction and operation of the site. Tessera's proposal does not appear to meet the wildlife agencies' recommendation, however, even though Tessera attempts to portray the alternative as compliant with the recommendation.
The graphic below was submitted by Tessera Solar to the CEC, and posted on the CEC's website. The green line meandering through the upper right portion of the graphic represents the 4000 foot corridor boundary as determined based on distance between the project and the Cady Mountains. As more clearly evident in the full size graphic available on the CEC website, portions of the project would still interfere with the recommended corridor, to include the detention basins and portions of phase 2 solar fields in the northern and northeastern edges of the project.
I could be missing something, but there seems to be an obvious discrepancy between what Tessera says and what the graphic above depicts.
Here is what Tessera said about the alternative layout:
" On May 14, 2010 a Supplement was filed that described modifications to the Project's northern boundary. Based on input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Desert Tortoise Recovery Office (DTRO) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the northern boundary of the Project site has been further modified to include a 4,000-foot wildlife corridor between the Project (inclusive of all detention basins) and the base of the Cady Mountains. To accommodate this modification, the detention basins were re-configured to extend east to west along the northern Project boundary and the boundary between Phases 1 and 2. Through this change in detention basin design, two objectives are achieved: the detention basins are included within the Project fenceline and outside of the 4,000-foot wildlife corridor, as requested by the wildlife agencies, and the detention basin design maintains the natural drainage patterns of the site. "
Close examination of the graphic indicates that portions of the detention basins and other portions of the project site interfere with the corridor. If anyone can explain this discrepancy, please comment.
On the positive side, the alternative layout proposed by Tessera would clearly be less disruptive than the original design, particularly because the northern portion of the site seems to contain the most desert tortoise, according to previous BLM studies. But as one of the largest solar projects under review for public land--with significant environmental impact--Tessera should not be allowed to cut corners.
Tessera boasts that its alternative layout for Calico is better than the "avoidance of donated lands alternative" evaluated by CEC, which cuts out parcels of land that fall inside the project boundary because they were donated to the Federal Government by The Wildlands Conservancy for conservation. This is likely true from an ecological standpoint since untouched desert habitat surrounded on all four sides by construction will eventually degrade in habitat quality. However, the Tessera filing fails to note that the "reduced acreage alternative" evaluated by the CEC--which would cut the total area bulldozed by 67%--would be much less harmful. Tessera likely does not even consider this an option since it would drastically reduce the energy produced at the Calico site. The company seems to expect that it can cut corners in environmental mitigation and still be granted access to exploit public land. Tessera's apparent failure even to fully accommodate a 4,000 foot wildlife corridor conveys a sense of entitlement to public land and funding that suggest the company is likely taking a similar approach to its other projects proposed for the California desets.