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Showing posts from November, 2010

Investigation Blasts Stimulus Spending on Destructive Solar

The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity conducted an investigation of projects receiving Federal stimulus funds and found that Washington intentionally ignored environmental damage when granting money to several projects.  Among the recipients singled out by the Center's investigation is BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generation System, which received a stimulus-backed loan guarantee in the amount of $1.37 billion.  The project will be built on 5.6 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat in the northeastern Mojave Desert.

From the Center's report:
According to documents, the Obama administration has unequivocally concluded that one of the Energy Department’s biggest stimulus outlays — a $1.37 billion loan guarantee for the massive Ivanpah solar power installation to be built on federal lands in California’s Mojave Desert — will negatively affect the environment.


The solar plant represents one of the few dozen stimulus projects required by the de…

Silent Spring: The Sacrifice of California's Deserts

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By April 2010, the solar rush in California staked claim to dozens of square miles of pristine desert, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) were on the verge of granting approvals despite concerns about how these projects would transform wilderness into an industrial zone.  The BLM and CEC were accelerating the approval process to the detriment of public involvement, in a hurry to make good on promises by State and Federal leaders that our public land would be used to generate  renewable energy was mounting.

How Policy Brought the Bulldozers

Months earlier in October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and Governor Schwarzenegger announced an agreement between the State and Federal governments to speed up the permitting of solar projects on public land in California.  Ironically, they made their announcement at a solar array on Loyola Marymount University's campus, a perfect example of distributed generation or "rooftop solar." Th…

Will the Sierra Club Step up to the Plate?

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According to Reuters, the Sierra Club claims it is still considering whether or not to challenge Tessera Solar LLC's proposed Calico Solar power project.  If built, the project would destroy 7.2 square miles of pristine desert that is home to at least 18 desert tortoises and impact surrounding habitat where dozens more tortoises have been observed.  The site is also home to rare plants, Western burrowing owls, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard, and would block a wildlife corridor for bighorn sheep.

Although the Sierra Club has been involved in the permit process for several destructive solar power projects, the Club has not yet taken legal action to block them.   The Sierra Club positions itself as a leader in renewable energy, but the group is only now considering taking legal action to steer energy companies in the right direction.  There is plenty of room for solar panels on disturbed land and rooftops -- leave our deserts for future generations.

What You Can Do:
If you are a Sierr…

First Round of Solar Projects Cast Shadow on Future of Desert Ecosystem

The first batch of solar power projects approved by the Bureau of Land Management have begun construction and are expected to fragment and industrialize America's remaining southwestern deserts, blocking wildlife movement and driving some plant and animal species closer to extinction.   Although some projects will be built on land that is already disturbed or on privately owned land, the vast majority are on public land with pristine desert habitat.  Although Federal and State requirements will require measures to lessen the impact on plants and wildlife, the long-term impact of these projects is expected to seriously degrade the ecology of the two primary bio-regions in Southern California--the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Summary of solar power projects: Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Company: BrightSource Energy LLCProject area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles)Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in CaliforniaBiological impacts:  At least 40 dese…

Palen Solar Power project moves forward; Imperial Solar Threatens Cultural Heritage

The California Energy Commission (CEC) provided preliminary approval for a solar power project that will consume almost 8 square miles of mostly public land near the Palen Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and that would disturb part of the designated Chuckwalla Critical Habitat Unit for the desert tortoise.  The Palen Solar power project is being proposed by Chevron and a subsidiary it created, Solar Millennium LLC.

The CEC is requesting that Solar Millennium LLC build a reconfigured layout and not the initial proposal in order to reduce (but not eliminate) impacts to Mojave Fringe Toed Lizard habitat.  However, the project would also disrupt desert tortoise linkages since it would block multiple washes that allow them to travel under Interstate 10.  If built, the project would probably slow genetic ties between the tortoise populations north and south of the Interstate.  Defender's of Wildlife proposed that Solar Millennium and the CEC should reduce the project by ha…

BLM Underestimating Impacts on Desert Tortoise?

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is estimating that only 12 desert tortoises will be affected by the construction of the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project.   However, biologists have found at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows, suggesting the number of tortoises could be much higher than the BLM report acknowledges.  The project is proposed by First Solar and would consume 6.8 square miles of public land adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park.

Why does this matter?  The BLM tortoise population estimates are considered by the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy when trying to assess the overall impact of a proposed energy project.  The lower the number, the easier it is for big energy companies to build their projects on public land, and receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants.

The BLM already underestimated the number of desert tortoises on another solar project site in California.  In the separate case,  BLM stated that they expected to remove 32 de…

Desert Skies Calendar

It's almost 2011, do you know where your new calendar is?  Check out a calendar put together by Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing. The Desert Skies calendar includes photography of beautiful desert vistas, and you can preview the photos at his site.

Peaceful Protest Planned for Imperial Valley Solar Project

Citizens supporting the Quechan Tribe's lawsuit against the Imperial Valley Solar power project are planning to hold a peaceful and educational protest against the project today and tomorrow (14 and 15 November).  The Imperial Valley Solar project will be built by Tessera Solar LLC on public land that contains many artifacts and sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe.  The Tribe is suing the Department of the Interior for approving the project as part of the "fast track" process for solar energy projects because the Department failed to conduct a thorough review of the cultural significance of the site, and ignored Quechan Tribe requests for such a survey.  You can read more on a previous post on the Imperial project.

The Imperial Valley Solar project will consume over 10 square miles of Colorado Desert habitat near the town of Imperial, California.  The site also contains habitat for the threatened Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard and foraging habitat for the Peni…

Government Favors Destructive Layout of Solar Facility Near National Park

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reviewed three different alternatives for the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project, and expressed support for a 6.8 square mile layout that includes an area with a dense desert tortoise population.  The Desert Sunlight solar project would be built by First Solar and Desert Sunlight Holdings LLC on public land less than two miles from Joshua Tree National Park.  The project is still in the initial stages of review, and you can read the draft environmental impact statement and offer comments on the BLM website.

Among the three different alternatives, layout "C" would have the least impact on desert tortoises and other sensitive plant and wildlife, but the BLM and CPUC expressed support for layout "B," which contains at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows.  Surveys of the smaller layout "C" only found 7 active burrows.  The draft Environmental Impact Statement d…

Ivanpah Tortoise Count Highlights Poor Choices

Workers at BrightSource Energy's 5.6 square mile solar energy site in the Ivanpah Valley have now found approximately 40 desert tortoises in the paths of bulldozers, and the project is only in initial stages of construction.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service only expected to find 32 tortoises on the entire site, showing that the biological assessment of the Ivanpah Solar site underestimated its ecological value.  Some biologists are now concerned that the population of tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley--which represents a "genetically significant unit"--is at risk of a serious population decline as a result of solar energy projects.

On the other side of the Mojave, Solar Millennium LLC continues to search for ways to site a large solar power plant near the town of Ridgecrest.  Review of the company's proposal was suspended by the California Energy Commission (CEC) due to concerns that the site selected by Solar Millennium for its proposed project was too ecologically i…

American Indian Tribe Sues Interior Over Imperial Valley Solar Project

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The Quechan Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior for not completing analysis of the Imperial Valley Solar projects impacts on cultural resources, according to a copy of the civil action.  The 709 megawatt Imperial Valley Solar project was proposed by Tessera Solar LLC for nearly 10 square miles of public land.  The Department of the Interior approved the company's proposal for the site in October, as did the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Because the project is being constructed on public land administered by the federal government, the Department of the Interior is obligated to assess a range of impacts before issuing a final decision.  The Tribe alleges that the Department of the Interior did not conduct a thorough assessment of the solar project's impacts on cultural resources -- such as sites of historical and religious significance to the Tribe -- and artifacts that would be lost during the construction of the energy project.  The Tribe no…

Sierra Club Concerned About Rushed Calico Solar Approval Process

The Sierra Club informed the California Energy Commission's (CEC) that it should not approve the Calico Solar power project given concerns about the impact on desert tortoises on the 7 square mile site.  The Sierra Club objected to the rushed nature of the approval process that did not include adequate opportunities for public input, especially when the revised layout was decided between the CEC and Tessera Solar LLC.

According to comments submitted to the CEC and stated during a 22 October evidentiary hearing, the Sierra Club pointed to the unfinished nature of the desert tortoise translocation plan, which the CEC considered sufficient mitigation despite concerns that receptor sites for relocated tortoises would not be adequate.  Also, the fact that construction at the Calico Solar site will begin beyond late October could reduce the ability of biologists to find and relocate tortoises since the tortoises likely will be hibernating.

Another very significant point made by the Sier…