Friday, April 30, 2010

Calico Solar Avoiding Responsibility for Environmental Damage?

In a document submitted by Calico Solar LLC (Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy), the company proposes weakening conditions proposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) requiring it to conserve nearby Mojave Desert wilderness to compensate for the loss of endangered species.   The proposed Calico Solar power project would displace or kill at least 100 desert tortoises currently located on the site, in addition to several other special status species, including desert kit fox, burrowing owl and foxtail cactus.

In the original conditions proposed by the CEC Staff, Calico Solar would have to purchase and conserve 14,018 acres of desert tortoise habitat elsewhere in the Mojave to make up for the loss of wildlife and habitat on the proposed site.  However, in the document submitted by Tessera Solar and Calico Solar LLC, the company lowers the acreage for which it is responsible to 11,658 acres on "BIO-17", which is the designation for the condition requiring the company to compensate for loss of desert tortoises and habitat.

It's not clear from the submitted document how Calico Solar LLC came to this reduced acreage amount.  The company made other changes to the proposed conditions, including shifting most of the language to the verification section of each proposed condition.  Hopefully the CEC Staff will be able to interpret the significance of these proposed changes and what impact they may have on the company's future liability for the damage it proposes to impart on Mojave Desert wilderness.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Threatened Vistas

Among the Mojave Desert treasures at stake as energy companies lay claim to vast tracts of BLM-managed desert wilderness are relatively unspoiled scenic vistas.  The view below was taken at dusk in the protected Mojave National Preserve.  Only a stretch of the lonely Kelbaker Road is visible in the distance and leading off to the west of creosote scrub and lava flows.  The California Desert Protection Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein, could help preserve more Mojave treasures before they are bulldozed by improperly sited industrial-scale energy development.  In the meantime, it is up to the California Energy Commission (CEC) and science-based surveys of Mojave and Colorado Desert resources to prevent the "solar rush" from trampling irreplaceable wilderness and wildlife.

Initial Ridgecrest Solar Workshop Read-Out

A reader of this blog posted a brief summary of the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project public workshop held 23/24 April to address questions about the proposed site on issues of water, soil, transportation etc (pretty much everything except biological resources, which will be covered on 3 and 4 May.  See the original post here.)

What is striking is that the water usage of the Ridgecrest site, which is a dry-cooled plant (so presumably it is much more water efficient than other proposed solar sites) would still have enormous impacts on ground water.  Ridgecrest's consumption of approximately 150 acre feet a year is dwarfed by the consumption of the proposed Abengoa Solar site near Barstow and Helendale, which would consume nearly 1,077 acre-feet per year. 

If you could not make it to the 23/24 April Public Workshop, you can attend the 3rd or 4th May workshop focused on biological resources at Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM. 

Comment from Laura about the recent public workshops:
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
The highlights were about water, of course: the basin is in critical overdraft and Solar Millennium's facility may lower the water table 40 feet in most of Ridgecrest over the 30-year lifetime of the project. This is bad. So Solar Millennium is looking at a cash-for-grass program with residents, through the local water district. Also a program of fallowing nearby alfalfa farms will be negotiated. Getting construction water from LADWP aqueduct will not work. Not enough tamarisk to pull to make a difference.

So even 150 acre-feet/year for operations is difficult to extract from the desert.

Other hot topics were how much the company is willing to pay for fire/emergency response from Kern County. Leaking Therminol vapors from the solar fields can ignite.

Dust control will be a big problem, especially during the 32-month construction period--7 million cubic yards of dirt will be moved. Residents were very skeptical the dust can be contained on windy days. Valley fever is an issue.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Desert Xpress Train Nearing Construction; Mag-Lev Still an Option?

I've written before on two competing high speed rail trains proposed for the Mojave Desert, which would connect Victorville and Las Vegas.   According to the developers of Desert Xpress, their high speed rail project is close to breaking ground and could be operating in 2013.  What is not clear is whether or not the Desert Xpress would take the place of the proposed Mag-Lev train or if they could offer duplicate mass transit service crossing the Mojave.  The Mag-Lev train reportedly received nearly 7 billion dollars in financial backing from China.  

The draft environmental impact statement for the Desert Xpress was published last year, and indicates that the route mostly stays close to Interstate 15.  However, sections of the route would veer away from the I-15 into creosote scrubland, and even cross the Ivanpah Valley in the vicinity of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.   The route would also traverse the edges of Desert Wildlife Management Areas as well as designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.  Field survey's conducted as long ago as 2007 found special status species, such as the Desert Tortoise, Mojave monkeyflower and Le Conte's thrasher would be impacted by the construction and operation of the line.

What is unclear is how much the line could further fragment desert habitat by creating a barrier across the Mojave.  The Federal Rail Administration and BLM will require that the Desert Xpress construct culverts and exclusion fencing that should direct some wildlife around/under the rail tracks, but wildlife corridors are still bound to be affected.   Desert Xpress would also have to compensate the States of Nevada and California, as well as Federal agencies, for the impacts on conservation lands, although the total mitigation costs were not indicated in the Draft EIS.

Rail alternatives for this corridor have been proposed and operated before.  Amtrak used to run a line on existing railways, but the passenger service had to compete with freight trains which extended the time it took to cross the desert.  Another developer is currently negotiating with the freight rail lines to re-introduce passenger service on the existing lines, and indicated that they could be operating next year.   Using existing tracks would obviously reduce the impacts on the Mojave, although the financial momentum behind the Desert Xpress and Mag-Lev suggest they are not going away.  However, one high speed rail option should be enough for this corridor, and constructing a 2nd mass-transit option following the same route would impose unnecessary environmental harm.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Last Earth Day for Ivanpah

As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a lot of potential change for the Mojave Desert landscape over the next year with so many proposed industrial projects.  Ivanpah is the solar project furthest along in the California Energy Commission (CEC) certification process and it looks like it will receive it's approval, although hopefully with plenty of mitigation conditions. 

The two photos below were taken last month in Ivanpah, and include construction and survey markers already on the proposed site.   If the CEC gives it's final approval, construction equipment could me mowing this land by late Fall 2010.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are Mega-Solar Farms Viable?

I was looking at the Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Statement, and the California Energy Commission (CEC) Staff included some maps of other major energy projects proposed for the Northeastern Colorado Desert.  Some of the projects that have been proposed by have not begun CEC review are massive, and dwarf sites that have already been deemed to be harmful to desert wilderness in California.  As the mega-sites--some of which are several times larger than LAX--begin the biological surveys we are bound to learn of potential consequences for the desert that are far greater in magnitude than we have seen with other projects covered on this blog.

Some of the solar sites well into the CEC/BLM review process that have been featured on this blog are large in their own right.  Ivanpah--located in the Eastern Mojave--will have a site footprint of approximately 3,200 acres.  The Palen project--in the Colorado Desert--will have a footprint of approximately 2,970 acres.   Ridgecrest would have a footprint of 1,440 acres.  Keep in mind that the "right of way" for each site would include thousands of additional acres.   So far the CEC has concluded that each of these sites would have significant environmental impacts that require substantial mitigation or a reduced footprint.  In the case of the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project, the CEC Staff outright recommended against construction (although this is not final verdict) because of the damage it would do to endangered species.  

Now consider how much environmental impact some of the proposed mega solar projects would have.  Among them are sites that would amount to tens of thousands of acres.  For example, First Solar proposed a 14,500 acres site near Desert Center, and a 15,000 acre site near Twentynine Palms.   Chevron Energy is proposing a 10,000 acre site near Blythe.   NextEra Energy is proposing at least two massive sites-- 18,000 and 20,000 acres--near Blythe.    And we're not done yet.  Leopold Companies is proposing a 35,466 acre site in the Ward Valley.   For scale, consider that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) occupies 3,500 acres. 

The screenshot below is taken from the CEC Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Palen Solar Power Project (CEC website) and depicts the projects proposed for the Colorado Desert.  The black and green patchwork in the bottom-center is the Palen project site.  The blue outlines throughout the rest of the map represent other projects, and you can clearly see that many are much larger than Palen:

The next screenshot, below, shows projects slated for the Western Mojave Desert, taken from the CEC Staff assessment for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The Ridgecrest site--which threatened desert tortoise and Mojave Ground squirrel populations, is a small red and black patch in the left/center of the map.  Again, a relatively small site compared to other proposed projects, outlined in blue.

It would seem that wise businesses responsible for some of these mega proposals would take stock of the results thus far encountered by projects already going through CEC and BLM review, such as Ivanpah, Ridgecrest, Calico, and Palen solar projects.  The companies responsible for these projects already under review have confronted the reality of biologically sensitive land in already dwindling desert wilderness.    The realities confronted by these smaller projects raises the question as to whether or not a 10,000 or 30,000 acre solar site on BLM land in the desert is actually feasible?  These sites are proposed for public land that is bound to host endangered species.  And if there are not many endangered species on the site (unlikely),  I'm sure bulldozing 30,000 acres will push species into an endangered status. 

Is the cost-benefit ratio really worth it?  Will the public derive that much benefit by replacing peaceful American wilderness with vast industrial landscapes when there are better siting options?  We have not yet fully explored rooftop solar options.  Fallow agricultural land in the Central Valley remains available for development and would have less biological impact.  And there remains plenty more land to be developed closer to Los Angeles and San Bernardino County population centers.

LA Planning Solar Development Near Palmdale

The Board of Commissioners for the Los Angeles World Airports is considering leasing land it owns near Palmdale and Lancaster to solar energy developers.  It's not entirely clear where the land is located, but according to recent statements, it is likely near the Palmdale regional airport and US Air Force Plant 42.  Most of the land in that area would probably be considered disturbed, so perhaps prime solar siting territory.  The only problem would be if the land is actually to the east of the city where there are actually a few wildlife sanctuaries.  Much of the Western Mojave (in the vicinity of Victorville/Palmdale/Ridgecrest) is so close to population centers that the wildlife in this part of the Mojave could be considered to be under more pressure than the Eastern portion of the desert.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Public Workshops for Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), there will be four public workshops held to discuss the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The workshops will give members of the public an opportunity to discuss or learn more about the recently published staff assessment and environmental impact statement for the project.   The first pair of workshops in April will address water, soil, visual, air, land use, and traffic issues.   The second pair of workshops in May will address biological resources.   You can read more about the staff assessment and EIS on a previous post on this blog.

The workshops will be held on 22 April AND 23 April, and on 3 May and 4 May (biological issues) at the Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM on each day.  You can also call into the workshop if you cannot attend in person.  The following information is from the CEC e-mail notice:

*Who*: The staff of the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of
Land Management (BLM) will jointly hold a public workshop on the
proposed 250-megawatt Ridgecrest Solar Power Project. The public and
interested parties are invited to attend.
*Where*: Ridgecrest City Hall, Council Chambers, 100 West California
Avenue, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
The public and all interested parties unable to join in person are
encouraged to participate by telephone at: 1-888-946-4720 (toll free in
the U.S. and Canada). The passcode is: 48732

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Summary

Once again I'll stray from the namesake of the blog and address an industrial project proposed for the Colorado Desert (a subzone of the Sonoran Desert).  Since the recent gold rush of solar projects will have impacts that affect species that roam to and from the Mojave Desert and neighboring Colorado Desert, I've been tracking projects throughout southern California.

The Palen Solar Power Project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley in California would have significant impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.  Basin and Range Watch actually has an excellent summary of the most important points to take away from the EIS, and you can check it out at this link to their site.  As noted in the California Energy Commission (CEC) report, and summarized by Basin and Range Watch, the transport of sand through the valley would be impeded by the project if it is built as proposed.  This would affect approximately 1,400 acres of sand dune habitat downwind from the site.  This is significant because the sand dune ecosystem that is sustained by the movement of sand across the desert supports the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, which is an endangered species.   In addition to disrupting sand flows and ephemeral washes, the project would directly disturb nearly 1,700 acres of Mojave fringe-toed habitat.  At least two special status plant species have also been observed on the site during surveys in 2009 -- the Ribbed Cryptantha and Harwoods milk-vetch.

It seems clear from the environmental impact assessment that the staff prefers the reduced acreage alternative, which would be 1,800 acres smaller than the original proposal.   The reduced acreage alternative layout would preserve the central wash in the site, significantly reducing impacts on Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat, desert tortoise habitat, and dry woodland wash ecosystem.   The wash also serves as an important wildlife corridor in the area.    

The Palen Solar Power Project is proposed by Solar Millenium LLC, which is also responsible for the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.

Below screenshot depicts the proposed project site (from the CEC Project Description, CEC website):

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mojave camping trip part 2: Cima to Granite Hills

Picking up on my previous post covering my late March camping trip in the Mojave National Preserve, I last left you as we came off Aiken Mine Road, turning onto Cima Road.  For those that have visited the Preserve in the past, you'll know that the Teutonia Peak is one of the most popular hikes on Cima Road.  I had already hiked the peak during a previous trip, so we continued on down Cima Road en route to Kelso Depot for a refreshment before we scouted out a camping site. 

It's always impressive to see the Joshua Tree woodland in the Cima dome area.  Where I grew up in Victorville the Joshua Trees are thicker, more robust and probably taller (on average), but much more sparse than in Cima.  The trees in Cima are thinner and shorter, but obviously the ecosystem fits the "woodland" description quite well! 

I was excited when we got to Kelso Depot and we spotted the first desert dandelion.  I know, it's kind of nerdy, but I have not seen a desert dandelion in a long time, and I'm not sure there is a brighter yellow and more sweet smelling flower around.  Let alone one in an arid environment.

The crowd at Kelso is always a strange assortment.  There were tourists from Europe, bikers on road trips, grungy campers, and families with kids.  As well as a couple of people I'm not sure would fit into a category at all.   From Kelso we got back onto Kelbaker Road heading south toward the I-40.  The Kelso dunes to the west are a marvelous site, and the Providence Mountains to the east.

I stopped on Kelbaker Road to take a picture of the brilliant yellow blooms on this shrub with the dunes in the background, and then we continued on to Granite Hills, just a few miles south.  The Granite Hills offered a perfect camping site, and place to explore among the boulders.  It was still a bit windy out, but we were at least able to build a campfire shielded from the wind around the corner of a large boulder.

I took the picture above from atop a granite cliff overlooking the campsite.  There are only a few campsites outside of the permanent sites that you can use in the Preserve if you plan to build a fire, so be sure to check with NPS website for the rules and regulations.

I spotted the cottontail around the campsite.  It was clearly going to enjoy a bountiful spring harvest with all of the greenery sprouting everywhere, and in turn it could become a nice feast for the coyotes we heard later that night! (sorry rabbit)

As with any Mojave sunset, the colors were spectacular, and we could hear owls hooting among the granite cliffs and coyotes howling in the distance.  The moon was bright enough to fight away most of the stars, but when I woke up before the sunrise, the moon had lost its battle to a trillion points of distant light, before the same soft blue shade we saw at sunset (pictured below) greeted us again.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Erasing Wilderness and Belittling America

I've come across a few instances of press articles and editorials that criticize the California Energy Commission's (CEC) proposed biological conditions imposed on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, and the CEC Staff's recommendation against the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The criticism contends that economic development is held up for the sake of "squirrels" and "turtles", referring to the endangered Mojave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.  The argument assumes that all business decisions are wise ones and that our country should essentially grant right of way to industrial development wherever the private sector points on the map.

I have two problems with these critics.

1.) America's wilderness is at a premium these days.  The open tracts of desert and forest, and the various species of flora and fauna that keep it a healthy wilderness, embody the original America that inspired and challenged earlier generations to innovate and develop.  From early explorers, to pioneers, trappers and miners.  Stagecoaches to railroad companies, to vast highways, and aerospace.   Saloons to casinos, and ranchers and farmers.  All saw the wilderness in the West as a blank slate for their individual ambitions.   These same ambitions ultimately threatened the source of their inspiration.    Paving over wilderness with predictable expanses of strip malls and industry will deprive each future American of a theater of life that fires up individualism.  Life without wilderness is one where an American will marvel at a new caffeinated beverage blend, or be delighted by a new TV series, but will never know what it's like to fall asleep under a thick blanket of stars and wake up to coyote howls in the morning.  So please spare me the "turtles and squirrels stopped my business" crap.  That wildlife has a more important place in the American spirit than any single plot of glass and steel, which can be replicated anywhere.  Wilderness cannot be built.

2.)  If the turtles and squirrels got in your way, it's because your company failed to do its research.  There are millions of acres in the southwest suitable for solar energy, and your company decided to ask the Federal Government for permission to build on public land that includes some of the most endangered species in the Mojave.   Admittedly there are policy tools that compelled you to rush into your siting decision --namely the federally backed loan guarantee deadline--but other companies managed to find good sites.  Abengoa and Beacon Solar, to name a couple, are applying to sites on already disturbed land of poor habitat quality.   There is plenty of similarly suitable land in the west.  You might point out that both Abengoa and Beacon are encountering some resistance, as well.  Why are they meeting resistance?  Even though they found ideally suitable land, they want to cool their solar operations with hundreds of millions of gallons of water per year.  In drought ridden California.  In the middle of the desert.  Ignoring dry-cooling technology.   It has never been an ideal of this country to subsidize poor business decisions.  Granted, the past two administrations have done that (bank bailouts), but it does not encourage innovation or bolster common sense.  It rewards bad business practice.  So why should the CEC, the State of California, or the American public support your bad business decision?

If you find yourself spending millions to off-set the loss of our "turtles and squirrels", then do not go whining to the press.  Go back to business school or go camping.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Redefining Success in Ivanpah

On 1 April, the California Energy Commission Staff posted its "opening brief" for the final consideration of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System site proposed for the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Overall, it continues the trend that I've posted about before on this blog -- that the CEC is likely to rule in favor of BrightSource Energy building an approximately 3,237 acre solar field on biologically important public land.   The next and final steps will be important in determining how much the private energy firms will be held accountable for mitigation procedures if they choose to develop on public land that is of biological value.  It is in the interest of the public that energy firms, such as BrightSource, that propose building on land that holds so many threatened biological resources should be required to pay for conservation measures that can off-set the damage done by the project.

The CEC Staff's opening brief may be followed by a brief from BrightSource Energy, possibly a rebuttal to the many conditions recommended by the CEC Staff requiring BrightSource to fund the purchase of conservation land, and institute measures that aim to protect special status plants. You can read more about the measures and BrightSource's response in previous postings. Following an exchange of briefs, the next step should be the "presiding member's" final decision.  The presiding member will determine whether or not BrightSource can build, and which conditions the company must meet in order to do so.  We've already concluded that the decision will most likely favor the company's request to build.  But will the CEC presiding member ultimately uphold the Staff's recommendations and require BrightSource to off-set the damage it will incur on the Mojave Desert? 

In the CEC Staff's opening brief, they lay out a fairly sharp defense of the proposed mitigation conditions. Central to this is "BIO-17", which is the proposed requirement that BrightSource fund the purchase of conservation land and BLM desert tortoise conservation efforts.   The Staff criticized BrightSource's request that BIO-17 be "gutted", in which BrightSource requests that mitigation be handled only by BLM, thus ditching most of the conservation costs requested by State agencies.  This would clearly favor BrightSource since BLM would not be able to determine mitigation measures before a final decision is made by CEC.  Also, the BLM's mitigation requirements generally do not involve the purchase of conservation land to set aside for endangered species.  This means  that BrightSource would pay much less, and there would be much less conservation effort to off-set the loss of prime desert tortoise habitat to the solar field.   The presiding member should uphold the CEC Staff's proposed condition that BrightSource not only fund BLM mitigation requirements, but also CEC and California Department of Fish and Game land conservation requirements.    If the full mitigation conditions proposed by the CEC Staff are not upheld, the project would be approved without any concrete measures in place to address the cumulative pressure placed on the desert tortoise by the project.  This would set an unacceptable precedent.

The Staff also points out that although BrightSource reduced the footprint of their site to preserve special status plants in the northern portion (Ivanpah 3), the company did not embrace CEC Staff's recommendation for reduced footprint in the southern portions of the project, which contain rare desert pincushion and Mojave milkweed.  The Staff thus argues that the CEC should uphold additional mitigation efforts for these plants.

Although previous postings and comments on this blog point out that even the proposed mitigation efforts are imperfect, and may not result in complete mitigation for desert tortoise, special status plants, and bighorn sheep grazing territory, an absence of such conditions would spell doom for the Mojave Desert and its threatened species.  Moreover, an absence of such conditions would leave the door open for other energy companies to make poor decisions when choosing where to build industrial scale energy projects.  These mitigation requirements help express the value of the desert to the public and to future generations of Americans, and encourage companies to find more appropriate land for industrial development.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mojave Camping Trip part 1: Kelbaker to Cima

Just getting around to giving a read-out on my late March camping trip in the Mojave National Preserve.   We started out with a drive to the lava cinder cones in the western portion of the preserve. Lots of shrubs blooming along the road, and some wildflowers here and there.  Plenty of greenery on the desert floor amidst the lava flows and the cacti looked fresh and ready for the spring.

The lava tube is definitely worth checking out.  It's just a short walk from Aiken Mine Road.  The rough cinder walls of the tube are broken in spots at the top, allowing a flood of light to enter.

The cinder cone area is scattered with creosote and Yucca, with some ephemeral washes coursing through the lava flows.
You can see in the picture above that the sky was clear, although that came at a cost.  Plenty of wind across the Preserve that day.    After the lava tube we continued East on Aiken Mine Road -- a dirt road that connects Kelbaker Road and Cima Road.  If you check out, go slow and stay on the road since you never know when you'll come across a tortoise or other wildlife.  We spotted the lizard below on the road, still adjacent to the cinder cones.  Note sure which species it is, though!

Plenty of amazing desert scenery along the Aiken Mine Road if you take the time to get out of the vehicle and appreciate what the Mojave has to offer, like this cactus growing out the side of a huge boulder.

Once you get past the cinder cones, Aiken Mine Road brings you into Joshua Tree woodland as you skirt the enormous Cima Dome.   Some of the Joshua Trees were already blooming, and there were a few wildflowers blooming as well.

I also came across what looked like a moth nest being built by dozens of caterpillars on the edges of shrub branches.  I do not know what species of moth or the species of shrub that they preferred.  I did notice, however, that you would only see the nests on a specific type of shrub.
The views of the Joshua Tree woodland are impressive, even to people who grew up in the Mojave. 

As you cross the Cima area you will come across scattered remnants of the Mojave's past ranching settlements, although there is still an active ranch as you get close to Cima Road, so tread carefully.  The picture below is an old windmill at an old corral we cam across not long after leaving the cinder cones.

The road is sandy and rough at points, so be prepared and take a vehicle that has high clearance.  We arrived at Cima Road after about an hour or hour and a half of driving, although that included a lit bit of hiking along the way. If you take this route, it's worth checking out Teutonia Peak trail, which is on Cima Road and affords some nice views of the Cima Dome and Joshua Tree woodland.  I had already hiked this peak on a previous trip so we bypassed it on the way to Kelso.  I'll post some photos from the rest of trip in a future post!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blooms in the Mojave National Preserve

I promised a read-out of my camping trip to the Mojave National Preserve -- I have not gotten around to summarizing the trip yet.  But I can say that the Preserve should be seeing some nice wildflower blooms this weekend or next.  When I was there the ground was green and there were fields of yellow and purple, but many of the cactus and other blooms had not peaked.  Here are shots of some of the flowers I photographed during the trip, weekend of March 26.

Not sure what species are in the first picture below, but they were a brilliant, almost neon color that stand out near the lava flows in the western portion of the preserve.  Second photograph I believe is Indian Paintbrush near Cima Dome.  The third were very tiny white flowers blanketing parts of the ground near Granite Hills.  If you did not scrutinize the ground you could miss them entirely.  Fourth photo of some white flowers in a shrub.  The fifth photo was actually taken at the Ivanpah site -- to me it almost looks like the Barstow Woolly Sunflower, but I know there are other types of desert sunflower and I'm not a botanist!  So if you have any ideas, feel free to post a comment.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Calico Solar Environmental Impact Deemed Significant

The Calico Solar (formerly SES Solar One) project proposed for the Pisgah area was deemed to have significant impacts on biological resources, according to the draft environmental impact statement produced by the California Energy Commission (CEC).   The Calico Solar project, which would be built on approximately 8,230 acres of Mojave Desert public land.

Unlike with the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project staff assessment (see previous post) where the CEC openly recommended against construction on the proposed site, the CEC Staff did not make an outright recommendation on Calico Solar.  The CEC Staff made it clear, however, that the environmental impacts would be significant under current environmental laws, and if construction goes forward Calico Solar would have to implement substantial mitigation and adhere to several conditions in order to reduce the environmental impact to "less than significant" levels.   The Staff also noted that the Calico Solar "reduced acreage alternative" would alleviate much of the biological harm since it would occupy only 31% of the original proposed site.   The Staff assessment appeared to favor this alternative, although it's not clear if this alternative would be financially viable to Calico Solar since they would produce less energy.

If approved and constructed, Calico Solar may be required to fund the purchase of conservation land up to a 6:1 ratio totaling nearly 10,000 acres. The mitigation could cost Calico Solar well over $30,000,000 if the project is approved.

Among the Mojave Desert species that will be impacted by the site include possibly one hundred desert tortoises according to the company's own survey, at least 9 species of special status plants, endangered Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizard,  a golden eagle, and foraging habitat for Nelson's bighorn sheep.  Among the special status plants are small-flowered androstephium, Emory's crucifixion thorn, white-margined beardtongue, foxtail cactus, winged cryptantha, Utah vine milkweed, crowned muilla,  Coves’ cassia, and small-flowered sand-verbena.

Below: A screenshot of the Calico Solar original site boundaries from documents on the CEC website

Below: A screenshot of the reduced acreage boundaries (in red lines), with red and blue squares depicting the presence or sign of desert tortoise. The reduced acreage alternative avoids more of the biologically sensitive land.  From the CEC website and SA/DEIS.