Sunday, November 21, 2010

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 LLC
    • Project area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles)
    • Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in California
    • Biological impacts:  At least 40 desert tortoises already displaced, rare plants include the small-flower androstephium, Mojave milkweed, and Rusby's desert mallow. 
    • Status: Approved and under construction
 
  • Calico Solar power project
    • Company: Tessera Solar LLC
    • Project area: 4,613 acres (7.2 square miles)
    • Location: Central Mojave Desert in California
    • Biological impacts:  high density desert tortoise habitat, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Nelson's bighorn sheep foraging habitat, and rare white-margined beardtongue plant.
    • Status: Approved and pending construction
 
  • Abengoa Solar power project
    • Company: Mojave Solar LLC
    • Project area: 1,765 acres (2.75 square miles)
    • Location: West Mojave Desert in California
    • Biological impacts:  Abengoa to be built on fallow agricultural land, so only minimal impacts on wildlife, although Abengoa uses a cooling technology that will require over 350 million gallons of ground water each year.
    • Status: Approved
 
  • Beacon Solar power project
    • Company: NextEra Energy Resources LLC
    • Project area: 2,012 acres (3.14 sqaure miles)
    • Location: West Mojave Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: Beacon will be built on fallow agricultural land, so only minimal impacts on wildlife.  Beacon will also use a water-intensive cooling technology, requiring over 456 million gallons of water.  Beacon will attempt to purchase grey or "recycled" water from nearby California City.
    • Status: Approved
 
  • Ridgrecrest Solar power project
    • Company: Solar Millennium LLC
    • Project area: 3,920 acres (6.12 square miles)
    • Location: West Mojave Desert in California
    • Biological impacts:  Ridgecrest would disrupt a key Mohave ground squirrel corridor, and supports a high density of desert tortoise.  
    • Status: On hold pending further biological studies
 
  • Silver State Solar power project
    • Company: First Solar, Inc.
    • Project area: 7,840 acres (12.25 square miles)
    • Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in Nevada
    • Biological impacts:  Silver State is the second large-scale solar project to be built int he Ivanpah Valley, which stretches across part of California and Nevada.  The Silver State and Ivnapah Solar projects will severely damage the viability of the area to sustain a healthy desert tortoise population.
    • Status: Initial phase approved, second phase pending approval.
 
  • Blythe Solar power project
    • Company: Solar Millennium LLC
    • Project area: 9,400 acres (14.69 square miles)
    • Location: Eastern Colorado Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: The massive Blythe project will damage bighorn sheep foraging habitat, and kill or displace Western burrowing owls, desert tortoise, and Mojave fringe-toed lizards.  A special status plant known as Las Animas Colubrine will also be impacted.
    • Status: Approved 
 
  • Palen Solar power project
    • Company: Solar Millennium LLC and Chevron 
    • Project area: 5,200 acres (8.13 square miles)
    • Location: Northern Colorado Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: Palen will destroy habitat for Mojave fringe-toed lizard, desert tortoise, desert kit fox, and Le Conte's Thrasher.
    • Status: Preliminary approval granted, pending final approval expected in December
 
  • Rice Solar power project
    • Company: Solar Reserve LLC
    • Project area: approximately 1,600 acres (2.5 square miles)
    • Location: Eastern Colorado Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: Rice will be built on mostly private land, although will displace or kill at least 7 desert tortoises, Western burrowing owl and a special status plant species known as Harwood Milkvetch
    • Status: Preliminary approval granted, pending final approval expected in December
 
  • Genesis Solar power project
    • Company: NextEra Energy 
    • Project area: 4,640 acres (7.25 square miles)
    • Location: Northern Colorado Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: The Genesis solar site does not support many desert tortoises according to surveys, but the habitat on the site supports a high density of threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizards. and some Western burrowing owls.
    • Status: Approved
 
  • Imperial Solar power project
    • Company: Tessera Solar LLC
    • Project area: 6,140 acres (9.59 square miles)
    • Location: Colorado Desert in California
    • Biological impacts: Destruction of habitat for the threatened flat-tailed horned lizard, foraging habitat for bighorn sheep.
    • Status; Approved, litigation pending
  • Desert Sunlight Solar power project
    • Company: Desert Sunlight Holdings LLC
    • Project area: 4,391 acres (6.86 square miles)
    • Location Northern Colorado Desert in California, next to Joshua Tree National Park
    • Biological impacts: Part of the site sustains a healthy desert tortoise population, and at least 22 desert tortoise burrows would be destroyed.  The site also supports Western burrowing owl, and rare plants such as foxtail cactus and Las Animas Colubrine
    • Status: Pending Approval
  • Total area:
    • Acres: 51,521 
    • Square miles: 80.5
 
 

3 comments:

  1. So far,

    Construction has only begun on Ivanpah and possibly Beacon. The rest have been approved, but minimal construction has taken place.

    Desert Sunlight, Ridgecrest and Palen have not been approved yet,

    Calico is approved, but BLM has told me their only construction this year will be a bridge over the railroad tracks. One person in BLM says the agency is worried that's all Tessara will do before going bankrupt. And, Tessara is already looking for someone to buy their Imperial Project (which has also not started any construction.

    Blythe is supposed to start in the beginning of December.

    Nothing yet on Silver State either.

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  2. It would be the ideal wake-up call if these projects stall -- a close enough call to learn about what we stand to lose.

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  3. Other recent news is that Tessara is already looking for a buyer for the Imperial Project!

    They seem to know that their project is a theoretical money pit!

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