Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Imperial Valley Solar Project Receives Final Approval

Tessera Solar LLC's Imperial Valley Solar project was granted final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC) today.  The decision marks an uncertain step forward by the State of California, and pending approval of the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal government, for one of a series of industrial-scale solar projects that will begin to degrade the health of California's desert ecosystems.   Imperial Valley itself will consume 6,140 acres of desert habitat in Southern California, which hosts threatened Flat-tailed Horned Lizard, Peninsula Bighorn Sheep foraging area Native American cultural sites of historical significance.

The CEC is approving the project with the use of a technical loophole called "Override Findings," which is the government's way of acknowledging that the project is going to impose significant damage on biological and cultural (Native American) resources, but the CEC does not care.  I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the irreparable damage some utility-scale solar projects will do to the desert ecology by obstructing wildlife corridors and displacing or killing endangered species such as the desert tortoise, but there is yet another impact that most people have overlooked.

Tessera Solar LLC chose to place the Imperial Valley Solar project on public land that also contains significant artifacts from Native American history.  The sites and artifacts remain culturally significant to the Quechan Tribe, who inhabited the Colorado River valley.

The CEC decided that economic benefits and renewable energy allows the State to "override" the significance of these sites, some of which will be destroyed during the construction of the solar project.

According to the CEC's final decision:
"The project also may permanently change and/or result in the destruction of cultural resources, both known and as yet unknown, contributing to a cumulatively considerable impact which will be mitigated to the extent possible, but may not be fully mitigated."
The CEC brushes aside the significant cultural and biological resources that will be lost in one final statement that contains one very critical error:
"Therefore, this Decision overrides the remaining significant unavoidable impacts that may result from this project, even with the implementation of the required mitigation measures described in this Decision."
The word "unavoidable".  What was unavoidable about a project that a private company proposed for a 6,000 acre plot of land for the purpose of profit?  What made the company select this plot of public BLM land that is so rich in cultural and biological resources instead of other land of less value to the American public?

Other companies have found better alternatives.  The Beacon and Abengoa Solar energy projects, have been approved for former agricultural land with little or no cultural significance.  Surely the wisdom of those two companies was not out of reach for Tessera Solar LLC.

Tessera Solar LLC's project was approved because political pressure for so-called "green" energy has resulted in haste and faulty reasoning that will ultimately cost the American public.  We will lose a desert landscape that will die over time as it is fragmented by dozens of large solar projects, and we will lose cultural treasures such as those at the Imperial Valley site.  And we will do this to ourselves before we realize that industrial-scale solar energy would require hundreds of square miles to meet our power needs in California alone -- an unrealistic outcome that could be avoided if we began to simply place solar panels on our rooftops, instead of our wilderness.

The treasures on the Imperial Valley solar project site, whether they be an ancient creosote bush or a sacred burial site, were created hundreds of years ago.  But they will be bulldozed before another year passes by a profit-seeking machine--Tessera Solar LLC--masquerading as the savior of the planet, ready to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  It will only cost you open space, your natural heritage, and your cultural heritage.

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