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Showing posts from August, 2010

Calico Solar Decision Expected Soon

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According to the transcripts for a 25 August California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing for Tessera Solar LLC's proposed Calico Solar power project, the CEC planned to issue a Presiding Member's Proposed Decision this week.  The CEC initially planned to issue a decision earlier in August, but changes to the conditions of certification delayed the decision and prompted additional evidentiary hearings.

As noted previously on this blog, the Tessera Solar's Calico project could result in the deaths of over a hundred tortoises, the elimination of dwindling Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat, and further fragment the population of rare white-margined beardtongue, and other special status plants.   Tessera Solar also has not yet identified adequate receptor sites for its desert tortoise translocation.

Doubts About Desert Tortoise Translocation Plans for Ivanpah and Calico Solar

Hearings held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in late August cast doubt on plans to translocate endangered desert tortoises from the proposed Ivanpah and Calico solar power sites.  According to transcripts from the hearings, desert tortoise experts testified that tortoises moved from the proposed solar sites are more likely to die, and could also do harm to the sites to which they are moved.  According to one biologist, the results of the translocation of 158 tortoises from Fort Irwin resulted in 49% mortality in within months of translocation in 2008, and this year alone 11.6% of the remaining tortoises have died (see correction of previous post).

The hearings raised concerns about the sites selected to receive tortoises translocated from solar energy sites, the potential for the spread of disease, inadequate information, and last-minute changes in the plans:
In one example, the expert noted that some tortoises removed from the Calico Solar power project (proposed by Tessera…

New Report Suggests Energy Siting On Wrong Path

Thanks to our friends at Basin and Range Watch, and Coyote Crossing for highlighting a report compiled by independent experts regarding the impact of energy development on California's deserts.   The report was prepared by the Independent Science Advisors as part of California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).   The DRECP is intended to create a science-based process for reviewing and permitting renewable energy projects in the desert, and would provide a framework for implementing regionally coordinated land acquisition and mitigation to off-set the negative effects of the energy "gold rush" that threatens to turn California's deserts into an industrial zone.   The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), which this blog has previously described, is the multi-agency body that will implement the DRECP.

The full report, which you can find at the DRECP website, supports the development of renewable energy sources in order to limit greenhouse gas …

Ivanpah Comment Period

The Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is awaiting final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC).  The CEC issued a Presiding Member's Proposed Decision granting initial approval, but pending a 30-day public comment period, the decision is not set in stone.  You can still submit comments to the CEC regarding the Ivanpah site.  Please see Chris Clark's Coyote Crossing for further information.

You can email comments to the CEC at docket@energy.state.ca.us and include reference to "Docket No. 07-AFC-5."  For more information, see the CEC's public announcement on this.

"What a crock..."

According to an anonymous poster, this blog's critical look at where we should place utility-scale renewable energy production is unfair to the energy companies.

Anonymous said...
What a crock. You cant win for losing trying to build clean energy projects. Maybe they should just put a dirty oil or coal producing energy company there.

Apparently we should ignore the mistakes of previous generations and jump blindly into whatever profit-seeking companies say is best for us.  Okay Anonymous, let's bulldoze thousands of acres of our wilderness so you can run your dishwasher and TV on so-called "green" energy.

If utility-scale solar energy production that requires thousands of acres for a couple hundred MW of electricity were required to replace all of our coal production, our towns and cities would be sandwiched between vast fields of sun-reflecting mirrors.  Utility-scale solar technology still suffers from inefficiency from an economic scale standpoint, so why sh…

Amargosa River

A wonderful post on the Amargosa River (one of the Mojave Desert's few riparian areas) on High Country News blog site.  You can find the article at this link.

Bulldozers on the Horizon for Ivanpah; CEC Acknowledges Tortoise Density in Calico

Ivanpah Update:
Check out Chris Clarke's Coyote Crossing for a photo sent to him by Basin and Range Watch.  It appears that BrightSource Energy is beginning to mark the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating Site in the Eastern Mojave Desert for construction.  The Presiding Member's Proposed Decision has not yet been finally approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), but we know that BrightSource Energy will be rushing to beat the clock once the approval is made final.

In order to qualify for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds, BrightSource must break ground on the project before the end of the year.  But before the company can break ground, it must identify and relocate desert tortoises on the site.  This might explain the seemingly premature placement of construction markers on the site.

Calico Solar Update:
The 18 August evidentiary hearings are further proof that Tessera Solar's Calico Solar power project should not be approved by the CEC.  This compa…

Calico Solar Mitigation Costs Mounting

In bad news for Tessera Solar LLC, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) increased its recommendation for Desert Tortoise mitigation levels required if the company's Calico Solar site is approved.   As explained in previous posts, mitigation costs are the conditions imposed on energy companies that want to build on public lands that will result in significant harm to the environment.   The proposed Calico Solar site could result in the relocation and likely deaths of as many as 132 endangered desert tortoises if the site is approved and built, and biologists have deemed the site to be of high ecological value.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) and CDFG previously assessed that Tessera Solar should pay over 50,000,000 dollars in mitigation costs for the projected damage done to the tortoise population, assuming the site is approved.  This cost is determined by the number of acres of suitable tortoise habitat that the energy company will have to purchase and set asi…

Desert Expert: Find Another Site for Calico Solar

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Mr James Andre, an expert in desert research who Tessera Solar sought to ban from the Calico Solar evidentiary hearings, submitted a written brief to the California Energy Commission (CEC) in which he recommends that State and Federal agencies provide incentives to Tessera Solar to find a less harmful location for the energy project.

One of the most poignant portions of the brief submitted to the CEC commissioners reminds them of their burden to avoid shortcuts, and think of policy solutions that can accommodate the competing demands of "clean" energy and a sustainable and healthy Mojave Desert ecosystm:

Mr. Andre wrote:
"As the decision-making body for this and subsequent utility-scale solar energy projects, the Commission becomes our representative to future generations."

Mr. Andre argues that the Calico Solar site is of high ecological value for several reasons that represent his expertise in botany:
Tessera Solar's survey method for the White-margined beardto…

Calico Solar Decision May be Pushed Back

The California Energy Commission (CEC) just posted notice that it will be continuing evidentiary hearings on 25 August, which will likely push back its 24 August deadline to issue the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision, per my previous post.   It's not clear how much longer it will take for the CEC to wrap up the evidentiary hearings and issue the proposed decision, but the CEC is under pressure to make a decision soon since Tessera Solar would need to break ground by the end of the year to qualify for public financing under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Correction to Record: Botanist Did Testify

I need to correct the record on this blog.  In two previous posts (7 August and 12 August) I updated you on the evidentiary hearings for the Calico Solar power project, in which the company proposing the project--Tessera Solar--sought to bar the testimony of a respected desert botanist named Jim Andre.  The company argued that he signed a confidentiality agreement when he helped other experts understand how to spot rare plant life on the proposed Calico solar site.

I had downloaded and reviewed the transcripts for the 4 and 6 August hearings and concluded that he did not testify since he was not among the witnesses in those hearings.  I assumed that Tessera Solar had succeeded in buying the silence of the public's natural resources expert.  However, the California Energy Commission just posted the transcripts for the 5 August hearing, at which Mr. Andre did in fact testify, despite the objections of Tessera Solar.

This comes as quite a relief since the energy company's attempt…

What will happen to desert tortoises relocated from solar sites?

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I had previously posted on studies investigating the effectiveness of translocating desert tortoises to other parts of the Mojave Desert to take them out of "harm's way."   In 2008, Fort Irwin began relocating tortoises from Mojave Desert habitat that would soon become part of the base's training area.  The full Fort Irwin report on desert tortoise mortalities from base activities indicates that 200 desert tortoises were killed and 6 were injured in 2008, the vast majority of those were translocated tortoises.

The report was provided to the California Energy Commission (CEC) as evidence to be used in the CEC's assessment of the proposed Calico Solar power project.  If the solar project is approved, Tessera Solar LLC--the company proposing the project--would likely translocate dozens of tortoises currently inhabiting the area.   Based on the Fort Irwin translocation experience, the approval of large solar projects is essentially a death sentence for tortoises.

OHV Races and the Mojave Desert

It was a very unfortunate day for Mojave Desert Racing and Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreationists with this weekend's tragic accident in the Johnson Valley OHV area.  As much as I prefer my pristine desert wilderness, I understand that off-road vehicle enthusiasts ultimately share a love for the open space and freedom afforded by the Mojave. 

The media tends to paint OHV enthusiasts as the arch nemesis of environmentalists (and vice versa),  but there is middle ground, and hopefully that will not be ignored during the coverage of this tragedy.  It is true that OHV recreation is incompatible with conservation.  It is a fact that OHVs damage desert lands and harm endangered wildlife.  But if enjoyed responsibly, OHV enthusiasts can have their share of the desert, and leave the rest for everyone to enjoy in its natural state.  OHV recreation is a sport that--in my opinion--has not fully matured, but neither has our management of the deserts.

Some organizations may seek to take adv…

You shall never see elsewhere...

I'm reading The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery by Bruce Pavlik.  There is a chapter on the history of human interaction with California's deserts, and Mr. Pavlik has an excerpt from the writings of John Van Dyke, a professor who visited the California deserts and in 1902 wrote:

The desert has gone a-begging for a word of praise these many years.  It never had a sacred poet; it has in me only a lover.

Is then this great expanse of sand and rock the beginning of the end?  Is that the way our globe shall perish? Who can say? Nature plans the life, she plans the death; it must be that she plans aright.  For death may be the culmination of all character; and life but the process of development.  If so, then not in vain these wastes of sand.  The harsh destiny, the life-long struggle which they have imposed upon all the plants and birds, and animals have been but as the stepping-stones of character...

Not in vain these wastes of sand.  And this time not because they dev…

Calico Solar Decision Imminent; Evidentiary Hearings Exclude Respected Botanist

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) stated during the early August evidentiary hearings for the Calico Solar power project that they planned to issue a decision on the project by the 24th of August.   As noted in previous posts,  the Calico Solar project would consume 8,230 acres of prime desert habitat, and kill dozens of endangered desert tortoise and Mojave Fringe-toed lizard, and probably disrupt a wildlife corridor.   The site would also impact loggerhead shrike, a nearby Golden Eagle, LeConte's thrasher, and several special status plants, such as the white-margined beardtongue, small flowered androstostephium, Utah vine milkweed, and foxtail cactus.  

During the evidentiary hearings addressing biological resources, Tessera Solar (the company proposing to build the Calico Solar project on public land) prevailed in its efforts to bar Mr. Jim Andre--a notable desert botanist--from the hearings.  It was explained during the 04 August hearing that Mr. Jim Andre had been paid t…

Ivanpah's Last Summer

For a great write-up by Chris Clarke (and a beautiful photo by Laura Cunningham), visit Coyote Crossing.  Mr. Clarke draws a parallel between the willingness of environmental groups to sell out pristine and threatened desert habitat for the sake of "green energy," and a poor decision by the Sierra Club decades ago when it acquiesced to the Bureau of Reclamation's inundation of Glen Canyon  by constructing a dam there.

While I have written on the California Energy Commission's imposition of mitigation fees on energy companies proposing to build on good quality desert habitat, the damage to the Mojave and Colorado Deserts will ultimately be irreparable.  Every poor decision made by energy companies, and approved by policymakers, will fragment our deserts until what remains is an industrial corridor with small pockets of desert that cannot sustain the rich diversity of life one can encounter in the desert now.  Watching a desert tortoise forage for wildflowers in the mo…

Giant Blythe Solar Power Project Approved

The Blythe Solar Power project proposed by Solar Millennium was approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), according to the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision.  The release of the Proposed Decision starts a 30-day comment period, but the decision is likely final.  The Blythe Solar power project is located in the Colorado Desert near the California town of Blythe, and is slated to provide 1,000MW of energy.  It will also involve paving 6,958 acres of desert habitat on public land.  Solar Millennium will be required to mitigate for the damage to desert tortoise habitat and preserve 6,958 of tortoise habitat elsewhere in the Colorado Desert, which could cost nearly $14,000,000.   That will be in addition to other mitigation costs for impacts on State waters, bighorn sheep, and threatened Mojave Fringe-toed lizard.

The habitat quality on the propose Blythe Solar site was deemed to be of lesser quality than other large solar power projects--such as the Ivanpah Solar Energy G…

Tessera Solar Attempting to Silence Science?

According to the transcript from the 30 July prehearing conference held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) to discuss the Calico Solar power project, Tessera Solar's lawyers sought to bar one of California's prominent botany experts from testifying on behalf of concerned citizens.   Tessera Solar claimed that because they had previously paid a particular plant expert to conduct a survey of the Calico Solar site--which would be built on public lands--the expert was unable to provide testimony in the debate regarding the solar site on behalf of other citizens because of his contract.  Tessera Solar's underhanded tactics suggest energy companies may want to buy the silence of biologists to prevent the public from fully understanding the harmful impacts of the energy company projects on public lands.

As energy companies rush to bulldoze open space in the Mojave Desert, they are required to conduct surveys to determine the extent of damage that would be done to plant an…

Choose Your Solar Site Wisely - Lessons from Ivanpah

If there is one bit of good news from the California Energy Commission's approval of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, it's that energy companies will pay more--millions more--if they want to build on some of the best Mojave Desert habitat.  The Ivanpah Solar site chosen by BrightSource Energy is public land managed by the BLM,  and the company's 392 Mega-Watt plant will destroy 4,000 acres of pristine Mojave Desert habitat there.   The site is home to dozens of endangered desert tortoises, and diverse array of special status and rare plants, to include the Mojave Milkweed and Parish's Club cholla cactus.   It's not clear why BrightSource Energy chose this site out of the millions of acres of potential sites across the sunny Southwest United States.

Instead of abandoning the site for alternative locations of less ecological value, BrightSource Energy insisted on moving forward with it's choice of Ivanpah Valley for construction, despite the concerns…

Ivanpah Solar Site Approved

According to the just-released Presiding Member's Proposed Decision, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved the construction and operation of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Eastern Mojave Desert.  With the release of the decision begins a 30-day comment period.  The decision appears to uphold many of the proposed conditions of certification, to include mitigation measures that require the company to fund conservation land elsewhere in the Mojave Desert, and avoid impacts on special status plants.  As noted previously on this blog, such mitigation measures are not always successful, and we can expect the loss of desert tortoise and other desert species'.  This blog will take a closer look at the proposed decision--and its impacts on the Mojave--for a future posting.

BrightSource Energy Eager for a CEC Decision on Ivanpah Solar Project

The energy company proposing to build the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS)--BrightSource Energy--is eager for the California Energy Commission (CEC) to issue the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision on the project, according to documents available to the public.  The Presiding Member's proposed decision -- as seen with the Beacon Solar power project -- is essentially the second-to-last step before the CEC either approves or denies an energy project in California.  The decision will also reflect what sorts of conditions the energy company will have to meet in order to start construction--such as the relocation of endangered species or payment of mitigation funds to preserve desert habitat in another part of the Mojave Desert.  Once the proposed decision is issued, there is a 30 day comment period before the CEC makes it final.

BrightSource Energy is in a hurry because it needs to start construction on the project before the end of 2010 in order to remain eligible …