Saturday, August 7, 2010

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 and wildlife.   Tessera Solar, the company seeking to build the Calico Solar project on nearly 8,000 acres of pristine Mojave Desert wilderness managed by the BLM, contracted with Mr. Jim Andre to survey the site for special status plants earlier in the CEC application process.   Mr. Andre is an expert on desert plant life, and is considered one of the best-qualified individuals to provide impartial assessments of how energy projects will impact the Mojave. 

Given Mr. Andre's respected knowledge of desert plant life, community groups seeking to discuss the harm the project would do to biological resources presented Mr. Andre as one of their witnesses to give testimony, prompting Tessera Solar to object and have Mr. Andre barred from speaking at the early August evidentiary hearings.  Given that the field of desert biology experts is relatively small, Tessera Solar's move to exclude one of the most qualified experts is significant.


During the pre-hearing, Tessera Solar's lawyer argued that Mr. Andre signed a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent him from testifying in the CEC process, but was not able to produce evidence of this contract at the hearing.  A CEC committee member interjected and noted that Mr. Andre should be able to testify if he has evidence that could help the CEC make an accurate determination of the Calico Solar impact.

Since the expert's work for Tessera Solar was done on a limited basis, and his survey results are ultimately made public through submissions to the CEC, Tessera Solar's claim that his work excludes him from testifying seems to simply be the company trying to exclude expertise to improve its chances of final approval.  The expert was used to survey public lands to identify public natural resources present on the proposed site -- a private corporation should not be permitted to interfere in the public's access to his expertise.
 
According to the log from the CEC website, Tessera Solar submitted a formal request to exclude Mr. Andre on 3 August -- just one day before the evidentiary hearing.   It is not yet clear if Mr. Andre was permitted to testify.

Excerpts from the pre-hearing transcripts posted on the CEC website (Ms. Gannon is the representative for Tessera Solar, and Mr. Byron is a CEC committee member):

"MS. GANNON: Mr. Kramer, we have an objection to presenting Jim Andre as a witness in this case. Jim Andre -- Mr. Andre was hired as a subconsultant to the project, and was paid for doing work on the site and there was a non-disclosure agreement for the company, with which he was working. And we believe that he should not be presented or accepted as a witness in this case."


ASSOCIATE MEMBER BYRON: Mr. Kramer, I don't know if you're waiting for Committee members to interject, but a non-disclosure or contract issue is outside my interest as a Committee member. If this witness feels he can testify and has information that would be of interest to us as evidence, I'd certainly like to hear him. If he decides between now and then that he's not in a position to testify, sobeit. But my inclination is let's go. Let him in.


"Ms. Gannon: We are willing to make it a formal motion to exclude his [Mr. Andre's] evidence -- his testimony as evidence in this matter."

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