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 important to the endangered desert tortoise and the rare Mohave Ground Squirrel. Solar Millennium is considering a two-year study of the Mohave Ground Squirrel in order to makes its case for constructing a project in the area, although CEC staff insist that the study is unlikely to alter their opinion that the site is unsuitable for development.
The CEC's opposition to the Ridgecrest Solar power project is a rare example of California recognizing the energy company's poor choice in locations, and opposing a project in order to preserve America's natural resources for future generations. Several other projects--including the tortoise-laden Ivanpah Solar project--were approved despite concerns raised by several groups regarding the environmental consequences of poor siting.
Unfortunately, dozens of additional projects are still pending review by the CEC or the Bureau of Land Management, and are proposed for areas of California's deserts that would have similar negative impacts on wildlife corridors, genetic linkages, and rare populations of plants and wildlife.