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 of citizens and wildlife biologists voiced early in the process. What will this decision cost BrightSource? At least $20,000,000 in extra costs to fund habitat conservation in order to mitigate for the damage the company will do to this vital habitat and the likely deaths of endangered species. The company will also be required to attempt relocation of the desert tortoises known to live on the site, and the company also had to alter its site layout so that it did not bulldoze rare plants known on the verge of extinction in the State of California. The company's total costs for making a bad location decision are probably far more than the $20,000,000 required by "BIO-17", which is the CEC's condition for certification that requires habitat conservation and improvements elsewhere in the Mojave.
Compare this to the much lower mitigation costs for Beacon Solar power project, located near California City in the western Mojave Desert. Beacon Solar will be built primarily on fallow agricultural land of little biological value. The most damage Beacon Solar will do to wildlife habitat will involve the construction of power lines, and water pipes to the site. Beacon Solar will only pay about $529,000 for biological mitigation efforts. That's a $19,470,000 savings for better decision-making. Abengoa Solar--another site on agricultural land--will probably pay even less for mitigation.
Overall, the construction of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will benefit the State with more renewable energy, but there were plenty of alternative locations that BrightSource Energy could have considered to provide that same benefit for less money. And with less destruction of already dwindling Mojave Desert wilderness. Hopefully other energy companies take notice and make wiser choices with our public lands.