Posts

Showing posts from September, 2010

Mohave Ground Squirrel Study Plan Due in October

The California Energy Commission (CEC) held expects to receive a proposal to study Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat connectivity from researchers by 15 October.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel is a threatened species that is found only in the western Mojave Desert, and lives in habitat being fragmented by urbanization, transportation corridors and now energy development.

Solar Millennium sought to build the a large solar power installation near the town of Ridgecrest that would have destroyed the Mohave Ground Squirrel's habitat.  The CEC opposed the project on the grounds that its ecological impact would be too significant, so Solar Millennium is planning to conduct a multi-year study of Mohave Ground Squirrel activity in the area to identify where in the area it could build an industrial operation.  The company's researchers will present their study plan by October 15th.

The CEC also revealed, however, that the Public Interest Energy Research Program is also starting a much wider …

Calico Solar Project "Cut in Half"

There is a lot of press on the California Energy Commission's (CEC) preliminary approval of Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project.  The press is portraying Tessera Solar's project as being halved by government authorities or "crazy hippies" who are trying to save the desert tortoise instead of building a larger solar power plant.  What most people just now entering the debate do not realize is that Tessera Solar's project is actually proposed for public land, and will receive taxpayer-backed financing in the form of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds.

Plenty of commentators will have you believe that Tessera Solar is being wronged by the government, but consider that the company is basically dependent on government handouts to make a profit, and its profit model is based on bulldozing pristine American wilderness.   And to add insult to injury, we could generate solar energy from the rooftops of our homes, parking lots, or the tops of comme…

CEC Requesting Reliability Data from Tessera Solar

Image
The California Energy Commission (CEC) requested that Tessera Solar LLC submit detailed logs on the reliability of its "Suncatcher" solar technology,  potentially reflecting doubt about the effectiveness of the company's proposals.  According to transcripts of a 20 September CEC hearing, the CEC Staff believed that Tessera Solar should be required to submit reliability data in order to be allowed to proceed with its Imperial Valley Solar project, which is proposed for over 6,000 acres of California Desert habitat.   Tessera Solar is the same company that is also proposing to bulldoze another 4,600 acres of the Mojave Desert for the Calico Solar power project.

Both the Calico Solar and Imperial Valley Solar projects would utilize the "Suncatcher" technology.  Each Suncatcher resembles a giant satellite dish that would harness solar energy.  This technology is not as tested as parabolic technology selected for other solar projects since the Suncatchers involve mo…

Ivanpah Valley Video Available Online

You may have read my post on an educational protest held at the site for the proposed Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, which will destroy thousands of acres of old growth desert habitat.  Chris Clarke posted a video on his website consisting of interviews of desert experts who provide an overview of the resources and natural heritage that will be lost.  If you were unable to visit the site, I highly recommend checking out this well made video.

Mojave Desert Land Trust Reaches Goal!

Congratulations to the Mojave Desert Land Trust for closing escrow on the Quail Mountain property located adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park.  The Land Trust's efforts will ensure that this valuable wildlife corridor will maintain a healthy ecosystem in Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding desert habitat.  The Mojave Desert Land Trust's grassroots efforts and community awareness is a valuable part of citizen efforts to preserve beautiful open space in California's deserts for future generations.

You can also read Morongo Bill's write-up on this good news!

Tessera Solar Project Could Kill 18 Tortoises for 60 MW

Image
The California Energy Commission's (CEC) preliminary approval of Tessera Solar's Calico Solar power project would permit the company to build in some of the most sensitive and highest quality desert tortoise habitat available in the area.   The CEC Commissioners could have chosen a less destructive layout that avoids the highest quality habitat, but instead approved the more destructive layout, known as "Scenario 5.5."  For 60 extra megawatts, the CEC is permitting the potential loss of 18 extra tortoises.

Two Calico Solar Layouts Presented to the CEC

Scenario 5.5:
Megawatts: 663.5 MWAcres: 4,613Estimated tortoise disturbance: 22 tortoises (not including tortoise eggs)Scenario 6:
Megawatts: 603.9Acres: 4,244Estimated tortoise disturbance:  4 tortoisesIf given final approval, "Scenario 5.5" would kill or displace at least 22 desert tortoises, according to a US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate.   Scenario 6--the slightly smaller layout--would only displace or k…

Save Sea Turtles; Kill Desert Tortoises

Image
The California Energy Commission (CEC) made two decisions this past week that will contribute significantly to the decline of the ecological health of the Mojave Desert.   In the first decision, the CEC gave final approval to BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System.  In the second, the CEC issued a proposed decision to approve the Calico Solar power project, subject to a 30 day public comment period.  Unless the CEC is persuaded to rethink its position during the comment period, the Calico project will be approved.

The CEC Presiding Members determined that despite the significant ecological damage these large solar sites would impart on the Mojave Desert, Californians thirst for "green" energy is more important.  The CEC brushed aside pleas that solar panels can be deployed on roof tops, or that these large solar plants would be better off if they were put on already disturbed agricultural land.  Instead, bulldozers will begin cutting into ancient de…

Chuckwalla Valley Under Siege

Image
The Chuckwalla Valley in California's Colorado Desert is currently being considered for multiple solar energy projects, and has also been targeted for development in the Federal government's solar energy study zones.  The largest solar power project in California, the Blythe Solar power project proposed by Solar Millennium LLC, already received approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC), and NextEra's Genesis Solar power project received preliminary approval.   Both of these projects are proposed for public lands.

These two projects alone would fence off and bulldoze over 10,000 acres, and as you can see in the graphic below, the desert valley that currently is home to desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, bighorn sheep, lynx, burrowing owls, and kit fox will be transformed into an industrial zone if all of the remaining projects are approved.

The next project currently awaiting CEC preliminary approval is the Palen Solar power project, which would be locat…

Cultural Injustice at Blythe Solar Power Project Site

Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch commented on my previous post on the Blythe Solar power project that, in addition to the environmental damage Solar Millennium will do with its Blythe project, the company will also bulldoze over a thousand important Native American points of significance on the site.  So it is even more unfortunate that the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the site. 

You can read a continuation of this discussion on Chris' Coyote Crossing blog and the Basin and Range Watch site.

Solar Millennium Site Approved; 21 Million in Mitigation Costs

One of the largest solar sites currently under review by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--the Blythe Solar power project--received final approval today.  The site will disturb at least 7000 acres of habitat in the Colorado desert in Southern California, making it the largest site to be approved this year.  The project will destroy sand dune habitat for the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard (at least 57 were spotted on the site), bighorn sheep foraging grounds, and nesting areas for the burrowing owl.

The Blythe Solar project, which is proposed by Solar Millennium LLC and is sited on public land just west of Blythe, would produce 1000MW of energy.  However, because the Blythe Solar power project will be sited on sensitive habitat, Solar Millennium will pay at least $21,000,000 to mitigate for environmental damage.  Solar Millennium may elect to pay these funds to the Renewable Energy Action Team's (REAT) mitigation fund, which will be put toward conservation in other part…

Educational Protest Planned for Ivanpah Site

A group of citizens passionate about the old growth desert habitat that will be destroyed to make way for the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System will hold an educational event on the site from 14-16 September.  The event will also serve to protest the poor choice of locations by BrightSource Energy, which will bulldoze over 3,000 acres of ancient desert plants and over two dozen desert tortoises for the site later this year.

The group will take the opportunity to educate visitors about the rich ecology of the site.  I highly encourage those interested in learning more about desert ecology, and the impact of industrial development on public lands to visit the Ivanpah Valley event.  You can find more information on this event at Chris Clarke's blog, Coyote Crossing.  The site is located just a short drive West of Primm, Nevada, and about 2.5 hours from Victorville off the I-15.



View Ivanpah Valley in a larger map

Urge Legislators to Pass Wilderness Protections Now

My last post highlighted two pieces of legislation currently stuck in Congressional committees that could improve conditions in California's deserts.  I previously assessed that the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) was unlikely to see a full vote before the Senate and House before the end of the legislative calendar in November.   However, I just read analysis by Politico--a publication that closely follows trends on the Hill--that suggests a Republican turnover in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could severely limit opportunities to protect western wilderness over the next few years.

Unfortunately, one of the misguided themes in recent political activism is that concern for the environment and protecting open space is synonymous with "big government" and "socialism".  The political figures that oppose environmental protections ironically boast of their patriotism and faith in God as reasons to allow private interests free …

Congress Back in Session Next Week...

...and there are a couple of proposed bills that could benefit desert conservation and promote sensible land management.


California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010)
We will see if Senator Feinstein is able to push CDPA 2010 (S.2921) beyond the Committee stage and out for a full vote before Congress.  Congress only has until November to get this done, but the pace of industrial development impacting public lands requires sensible land management policy.  CDPA 2010 would preserve desert lands for the public to enjoy without affecting energy development elsewhere in California's desert.  Kevin from Basin and Range Watch noted in a previous comment on this blog, however, that the bill would release some wilderness study areas, making them vulnerable to energy development.  I know some of these study areas would ultimately be included in one of the two national monuments that the bill would create, but it's not clear to me how much of the areas would be lost (welcome commen…

Abengoa Solar Approved; Calico Solar Submits Revised Layouts

Image
Two solar companies. Two sites.  Two different outcomes.  The California Energy Commission (CEC) announced today that the Abengoa Solar power project--which will be located on former agricultural land--will be granted its license to start construction this year.  Abengoa Solar is sited on private land that is not nearly as ecologically sensitive as the site chosen by Tessera Solar LLC for its Calico Solar power project.

The CEC sent Tessera Solar back to the drawing board earlier this month after it deemed much of the Calico site to contain high quality desert tortoise habitat.  In response to the CEC request, Tessera Solar just submitted 6 options for reduced footprints seeking to alleviate the CEC's concerns.  The original layout probably would have displaced or killed over 100 desert tortoises.

Unfortunately only one of the recently proposed options entirely avoids the highest quality habitat ("scenario 6", screenshot below taken from Tessera Solar submission to the C…

Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems.

The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.  California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy proj…

Calico Solar Workshop Scheduled for 9 September

Image
For those following the proposed Calico Solar power project (see previous post), the California Energy Commission scheduled a workshop for 9 September at 10AM.  Even though the actual workshop is held in Sacramento, members of the public can tune in by dialing in via telephone or computer.  Just follow the instructions on the September 9 notice posted on the CEC's Calico Solar site

The purpose of the workshop will be to discuss potential alternative layouts for the Calico Solar power project site.  Depending on the issues discussed at the workshop, a revised layout may be presented to the CEC during the Committee Conference scheduled for 20 September.

A couple of books worth reading...

When I'm not reading the beautiful prose of the California Energy Commission or the determined theatrics of evidentiary hearing transcripts, I try to find time to read books on desert ecology and environmental policy.  I've just finished two books that I think are worth reading, especially for people that are passionate about desert conservation and sensible environmental policy.


Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink, by Mitch Tobin

Tobin's new book draws from his experience as a journalist in America's Southwest, which often involved working to understand multiple sides of a particular story or policy issue.  He uses this access and experience to share his broad perspective on policy and societal issues that impact how we as a country triage environmental damage.  Endangered examines the role of multiple stakeholders--from municipal to federal government agencies, to ranchers, recreationists, and the spectrum of environmental NGOs--and how these actors' decisions i…

CEC Orders Calico Solar Back to the Drawing Board

According to a notice posted on the California Energy Commission (CEC) website, the Commission "cannot recommend approval of the Calico Solar Project as proposed" by Tessera Solar LLC because of the "scope and scale" of the environmental damage that the project would do to high quality Mojave Desert habitat.   The CEC's decision is an important message to energy companies that hastily choose to build large scale projects on pristine public land, and will hopefully encourage other energy companies to select sites that will not have such high impacts on ecologically sensitive land.

As noted in previous posts, there are thousands of acres of other suitable energy sites available in Southern California, to include already disturbed land.  Tessera Solar's choice to propose an 8,000 acre energy project in the Central Mojave Desert that is home to over a hundred endangered desert tortoises was a poor one.  The CEC should be applauded for recognizing the value of t…