Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mark Your Calendar: Mojave Desert Land Trust Restoration Event

The Mojave Desert Land Trust and the National Park Service are hosting an event on Saturday, 13 November to restore desert habitat in the Joshua Tree National Park. The efforts will help improve the ecosystem around the Nolina Peak, and will be a good opportunity to learn more about our desert resources while giving back.

You can learn more about volunteer opportunities on the Land Trust's website, or email Miz Seita at mizseita@gmail.com.

Here is the information for the restoration event:

Date: November 13th (Saturday)  
Time: 8:00am - 3:00pm

Location: Meet approximately 1.5 miles from the corner of La Contenta Road and Covington Flat Road along Covington Flat Road. (Please RSVP and I will email a map and directions).
 
Please bring water, lunch, gloves, sunglasses (eye protection), long sleeve shirt, long pants, sunscreen, wide brim hat, and hiking boots.

PLEASE RSVP - contact Miz Seita at 760-366-0542 or email mizseita@gmail.com

Thursday, October 28, 2010

CEC Approves Calico Solar Power Project Despite Strong Objections

The California Energy Commission (CEC) gave final approval for Tessera Solar LLC's 663 megawatt Calico Solar power project.  Dirty solar at its finest, the facility will be built on 7 square miles of pristine desert on public land, home to endangered desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard and a rare plant called white-margined beardtongue.  You can read more about the ecological significance of the site on a previous post covering the testimony of desert expert Mr. Jim Andre.

The public land that will soon be destroyed for Tessera Solar's project
The Sierra Club issued strong testimony on the CEC's approval of the Calico Solar power project, according to transcripts from the 22 October CEC hearing, noting that the approval process violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Warren-Alquist Act.  The Sierra Club claimed that the CEC's approval would be susceptible to "judicial review and reversal."  So far, no national environmental organization has shown leadership in correcting the current renewable energy strategy, which subsidizes energy companies that destroy pristine desert habitat.   Opposing destructive projects can help steer renewable energy development to land that is already disturbed, such as the Abengoa or Beacon Solar power projects which will be built on land previously used for agriculture.

The Tessera Solar project is eligible for Federal loan guarantees and grant money.  Tessera Solar is also responsible for the massive Imperial Valley Solar power project, which will also destroy Native American sites of cultural significance.

Just the Beginning: We Are About to Lose 5.6 Square Miles of Pristine Desert

A massive bulldozer arrives in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley.  Photo from Basin and Range Watch
VIPs depart after an ironic celebration of BrightSource Energy's project groundbreaking. Photo from Basin and Range Watch
Today's groundbreaking ceremony for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is over.  The bulldozers are on site, and the company will begin clearing 5.6 square miles of pristine desert for the massive solar project.   It is still early in the construction, but already biologists have had to remove 27 tortoises that were found while clearing the access road.   Imagine how many more tortoises we will lose when they begin clearing the rest of the site.

The desert tortoise will capture the spotlight, but it's really just a symbol for a much deeper loss.  The Parish club cholla, Rusby's desert mallow, Mojave milkweed, burrowing owls, and ancient creosote bushes.  The Ivanpah site is a vibrant place, and it is the heart of a valley that supports a genetically significant population of the desert tortoise and supports a healthy Mojave Desert ecosystem.  The more we sacrifice pieces of the puzzle as valuable as Ivanpah, the sooner we will see the rest of America's deserts collapse. Ironically, many people see the desert as a wasteland.  The desert is far from a wasteland, but if we continue to treat it as such, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Calico and Ivanpah Solar Hearings This Week

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is expected to hear any final opposition to the Calico Solar power project on Thursday, 28 October.  Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project is proposed for over 7 square miles of public land just east of Barstow, California.  The project is eligible for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants and loan guarantees.  The CEC already issued the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision in favor of the project last month, but has to finalize the decision following the end of a 30-day public comment period. 

Separately, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is already under initial construction on 5.6 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert, but Basin and Range Watch petitioned the CEC to reconsider its approval of the project.  The CEC will hold a hearing on the petition on Tuesday, 26 October.  Basin and Range Watch noted that the CEC dismissed biological evidence regarding the genetic significance of the tortoise population in the Ivanpah Valley as "speculative." According to the Desert Tortoise recovery plan, the evolutionary significant units of the endangered tortoise need to be preserved in order to maintain the long-term viability of the entire species.  The Ivanpah site could contribute to the destruction of an entire evolutionary significant unit by bulldozing a core portion of the unit's habitat in the northeastern Mojave Desert.    See the previous post on the Basin and Range Watch petition.

The Ivanpah Valley that will soon be scarred by giant mirrors, and expected to directly kill or displace at least 32 desert tortoises.  The BrightSource Energy project in Ivanpah gives renewable energy a bad image.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

BLM approves Calico Solar Power project; CEC Decision Pending

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the 7.2 square mile Calico Solar power project, which will kill or displace at least 22 desert tortoises, and jeopardize the future of a rare desert wildflower called the white margined beardtongue.  The California Energy Commission is expected to issue its approval for the project later this month. 

In other news, construction workers at the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert have found 17 desert tortoises so far.  Most of the tortoises will likely lose their homes (burrows) as the crews continue to bulldoze the desert habitat for facility, which will be operated by BrightSource Energy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sign the Petition to Save the Tortoise from Big Energy

There is a way to cut greenhouse gases and protect the environment, but as many Mojave Desert Blog readers are well aware, utility-scale solar is just another destructive attempt by big energy to earn a profit.  Each proposed solar site in California's desert is at least 5 to 6 square miles, and many would be built on pristine desert habitat.  The California Energy Commission and Bureau of Land Management are prioritizing these massive and destructive projects without directing them to less ecologically sensitive sites or investing more in rooftop solar.

Tell your State and Federal decision makers that you want them to develop a more responsible renewable energy strategy that preserves our public lands and wildlife for future generations.  Sign the "Save the Desert Tortoise from Big Energy" petition.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BLM Discards Land Donated for Conservation

The Bureau of Land Management decided that land donated to the Federal Government for conservation purposes by The Wildlands Conservancy could be bulldozed for the Calico Solar power project.  The Wildlands Conservancy vocally opposed the proposal to build an energy project on land that it purchased and donated to the American public.  The BLM's decision disregards this opposition, and promises from State and Federal leaders--including President Clinton, the Vice President, and the Department of the Interior--that the goodwill of the donation would be honored and the lands preserved for future generations, according to a submission by the Conservancy to the California Energy Commission.

The Calico Solar power project will destroy nearly 6.5 square miles of desert habitat, displace at least 22 endangered desert tortoises, and potentially drive a rare desert wildflower to extinction. The current project layout still includes some land donated by The Wildlands Conservancy.  The BLM's rationale for discarding the donated land was that habitat on the donated parcels was of marginal ecological value due to its proximity to power lines.  The BLM also mentioned that Tessera Solar LLC plans to compensate The Wildlands Conservancy by purchasing conservation land elsewhere.  It is not clear if The Wildlands Conservancy has accepted this rationale.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Many Desert Tortoises at Ivanpah?

At least a dozen tortoises have been discovered at the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System site already, and the project has only broken ground on an access road.  The project, proposed by BrightSource Energy and recently approved by the Bureau of Land Management, will destroy 5.6 square miles of desert habitat for a 370 MW facility.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initially estimated that 32 desert tortoises live on the site and would require translocation from the site.  If the construction crews have already encountered nearly half that number when a substantial portion of the project site has not even been touched, the initial USFWS estimates are likely inaccurate.  Therefore, the impact of the Ivanpah Solar project may have been improperly assessed in the BLM's and California Energy Commission's environmental reviews. 

As mentioned in a previous post, the impact of the project on the long-term viability of the endangered species has likely been downplayed by the CEC and BLM at the risk of neglecting their obligation under the Endangered Species Act.
Image from CEC Staff assessment for Calico Solar power project
Morongo Bill, another desert blogger, has raised another important question. Who will stand up against the shortcomings of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System?  Where are groups like the Sierra Club or Center for Biological Diversity?    Although the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity questioned the Ivanpah project earlier, they have fallen short in challenging a questionable environmental review process.

If these vanguards of the environmental movement let the Ivanaph Solar project, or the equally destructive Calico Solar power project slide, they are setting a precedent of allowing destructive utility-scale solar projects.  These projects alone will displace or kill at least 50 endangered desert tortoises (according to USFWS estimates that already appear to be underestimates).  They will block wildlife corridors, and jeopardize the future of already rare desert wildflowers.  The silence of the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity is tantamount to complicity. 

These same organizations encouraged utility-scale solar as a rushed solution to global warming.  It is not a solution, it is a destructive shortcut.  It is also unsustainable.  As of August, the BLM had registered 64 renewable energy projects, amounting to 569,802 acres.  That is nearly 890 square miles of public land being claimed by big energy companies for so-called "green" energy, essentially dooming the California desert to industrialization.  

The map below--from the CEC assessment of the Calico Solar power project--shows proposed solar and wind energy applications in Southern California as of earlier this year.  Unless the Federal Government and groups pushing the wrong brand of "green" energy come to their senses, nearly every vista in California's desert will be scarred by industrial development, and wildlife and plant life will be degraded over time by the fragmentation of habitat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CEC Flaunting Endangered Species Act Obligations?

The petition filed by Basin and Range Watch asking the California Energy Commission (CEC) to reconsider its decision on the BrightSource Energy Ivanpah Solar power project raises new information regarding the potential impact of the solar project on the survivability of desert tortoises.  The CEC approved the project earlier this month based on the assumption that a translocation plan and mitigation funds could offset the likely loss of endangered desert tortoises.  Such mitigation funds were designated for the purchase of land elsewhere in the Mojave Desert to be set aside for tortoise conservation.

Genetically Significant Tortoise Population In Decline

The Basin and Range Watch petition highlights new information from the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) biological opinion for another proposed project in the Ivanpah Valley that charactierized the tortoise population in the area -- identified as the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit--as the least abundant of all of the tortoise populations; the local population has been declining since the mid-1990s.

The Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit is identified as one of six designated evolutionary significant units that make up the overall desert tortoise population.  The Petition points out biological research by Dr. Kristin Berry about the genetic significance of each Recovery Unit, and the importance of maintaining viable populations of each genetic unit to encourage the species survival.

The CEC described concerns about the survival of evolutionary or genetically significant units as "speculative" in the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision, thus prompting the Basin and Range Watch petition in an effort to present facts apparently overlooked by the CEC. 

Both CEC and BLM have an obligation under the law--the Endangered Species Act--to ensure that the projects they allow to move forward on Federal land will not jeopardize the viability of the endangered species.  The record to date suggests they have been inconsistent in efforts to meet these obligations.  The BLM's approval of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is not consistent with the biological opinion they issued for the separate project in the same area that suggests the Recovery Unit is in serious decline.  And the CEC's characterization of concerns about the Recovery Unit's future as "speculative" seems to ignore scientific evidence.

A Desert Tortoise photographed at another solar project site. Image from CEC document.
Show Me the Translocation Plans!

The BLM is also under obligation to develop a thorough translocation plan before permitting the construction.  A thorough translocation was not made available to the public, and as of an earlier evidentiary hearing, the BLM had not even identified a place to receive some of the displaced tortoises.  This appears to be inconsistent with the BLM's obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which typically requires a thorough assessment of a project's environmental impacts before it can be approved.  For the Ivanpah project,  the indirect effects could extend to what impacts relocated tortoises will have on their new sites, given the potential to spread disease or place stresses on the tortoise population in the new site.

Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act mandates that the BLM ensure that the project's impacts on the desert tortoise "will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild."  According to the information presented by Basin and Range Watch's petition, the Ivanpah Solar power project may have a significant impact on an evolutionary significant unit of the tortoise population.

The Endangered Species Act language that governs how Federal agencies go about permitting an "applicant" such as BrightSource Energy to harass or kill (called "take" or "taking") an endangered species is copied below:
(2)(A) No permit may be issued by the Secretary authorizing any taking referred to in paragraph (1)(B) unless the applicant therefor submits to the Secretary a conservation plan that specifies—
(i) the impact which will likely result from such taking;
(ii) what steps the applicant will take to minimize and mitigate such impacts, and the funding that will be available to implement such steps;
(iii) what alternative actions to such taking the applicant considered and the reasons why such alternatives are not being utilized; and
(iv) such other measures that the Secretary may require as being necessary or appropriate for purposes of the plan.
(B) If the Secretary finds, after opportunity for public comment, with respect to a permit application and the related con- servation plan that—
(i) the taking will be incidental;
(ii) the applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impacts of such taking;
(iii) the applicant will ensure that adequate funding for the plan will be provided;
(iv) the taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild;(v) the measures, if any, required under subparagraph (A)(iv) will be met; and he has received such other assurances as he may require that the plan will be implemented, the Secretary shall issue the permit. The permit shall contain such terms and conditions as the Sec- retary deems necessary or appropriate to carry out the purposes of this paragraph, including, but not limited to, such reporting re- quirements as the Secretary deems necessary for determining whether such terms and conditions are being complied with.
The CEC and BLM need to 1.) provide details on the Ivanpah tortoise translocation, and 2.) ensure that conservation lands are set aside within the Northeaster Mojave Recovery Unit region.  Given the decline in this endangered species' population--particularly the evolutionary significant unit occurring in the Ivanpah Valley--the BLM and CEC need to strongly consider whether permitting the Ivanpah Solar project is even consistent with the law.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Basin and Range Watch Petition Under CEC Consideration

The California Energy Commission (CEC) announced today that it will consider a petition for reconsideration regarding the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System by Basin and Range Watch.  If the CEC grants the petition--which it will review at a 26 October meeting--the CEC will have to schedule an additional hearing within 90 days to consider whether or not it needs to change its decision with regard to the Ivanpah project. 

The CEC approved the Ivanpah project earlier this month, but Basin and Range Watch is arguing that the approval does not give sufficient consideration to the long-term effect the project will have on the health of the desert tortoise population in the Eastern Mojave Desert.  The desert tortoise population found in the Ivanpah Valley is genetically significant, and the project would disrupt a linkage that allows genetic exchange that is important to the species' long-term survival.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Imperial Valley Solar Project Receives Final Approval

Tessera Solar LLC's Imperial Valley Solar project was granted final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC) today.  The decision marks an uncertain step forward by the State of California, and pending approval of the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal government, for one of a series of industrial-scale solar projects that will begin to degrade the health of California's desert ecosystems.   Imperial Valley itself will consume 6,140 acres of desert habitat in Southern California, which hosts threatened Flat-tailed Horned Lizard, Peninsula Bighorn Sheep foraging area Native American cultural sites of historical significance.

The CEC is approving the project with the use of a technical loophole called "Override Findings," which is the government's way of acknowledging that the project is going to impose significant damage on biological and cultural (Native American) resources, but the CEC does not care.  I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the irreparable damage some utility-scale solar projects will do to the desert ecology by obstructing wildlife corridors and displacing or killing endangered species such as the desert tortoise, but there is yet another impact that most people have overlooked.

Tessera Solar LLC chose to place the Imperial Valley Solar project on public land that also contains significant artifacts from Native American history.  The sites and artifacts remain culturally significant to the Quechan Tribe, who inhabited the Colorado River valley.

The CEC decided that economic benefits and renewable energy allows the State to "override" the significance of these sites, some of which will be destroyed during the construction of the solar project.

According to the CEC's final decision:
"The project also may permanently change and/or result in the destruction of cultural resources, both known and as yet unknown, contributing to a cumulatively considerable impact which will be mitigated to the extent possible, but may not be fully mitigated."
The CEC brushes aside the significant cultural and biological resources that will be lost in one final statement that contains one very critical error:
"Therefore, this Decision overrides the remaining significant unavoidable impacts that may result from this project, even with the implementation of the required mitigation measures described in this Decision."
The word "unavoidable".  What was unavoidable about a project that a private company proposed for a 6,000 acre plot of land for the purpose of profit?  What made the company select this plot of public BLM land that is so rich in cultural and biological resources instead of other land of less value to the American public?

Other companies have found better alternatives.  The Beacon and Abengoa Solar energy projects, have been approved for former agricultural land with little or no cultural significance.  Surely the wisdom of those two companies was not out of reach for Tessera Solar LLC.

Tessera Solar LLC's project was approved because political pressure for so-called "green" energy has resulted in haste and faulty reasoning that will ultimately cost the American public.  We will lose a desert landscape that will die over time as it is fragmented by dozens of large solar projects, and we will lose cultural treasures such as those at the Imperial Valley site.  And we will do this to ourselves before we realize that industrial-scale solar energy would require hundreds of square miles to meet our power needs in California alone -- an unrealistic outcome that could be avoided if we began to simply place solar panels on our rooftops, instead of our wilderness.

The treasures on the Imperial Valley solar project site, whether they be an ancient creosote bush or a sacred burial site, were created hundreds of years ago.  But they will be bulldozed before another year passes by a profit-seeking machine--Tessera Solar LLC--masquerading as the savior of the planet, ready to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  It will only cost you open space, your natural heritage, and your cultural heritage.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tortoises Through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon

The National Parks Conservation Association commissioned a project that gave California high school students cameras, lessons in photography, biology and conservation, and had them photograph desert tortoises in the wild.  Tortoises Through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon seems to be a great way to educate local students about the natural treasures that exist in the Mojave Desert, and raise awareness about the plight of endangered desert tortoises.   The book is full of beautiful photographs of the tortoise, but also other desert landscapes and wildlife.  Proceeds from the book benefit tortoise conservation effort. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Destruction in Ivanpah Begins; Future of Tortoise in Doubt

Billed as a progressive project to replace carbon emitting coal plants with solar power, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (known as Ivanpah SEGS) has been approved by the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   The Ivanpah project is the product of years of false advertising and bureaucratic acrobatics that neglect to admit the true costs of industrial-scale solar energy.  The project likely will displace or kill approximately 30 desert tortoises according to a BLM report, degrade a critical genetic linkage that helps to sustain a healthy desert tortoise population across the Mojave Desert, and destroy thousands of acres of ancient creosote scrub habitat with a high density of rare desert wildflowers. 

So why was it approved?  According to the CEC and BLM, the projects significant environmental damage would be mitigated by the removal of desert tortoises before construction, and the purchase and conservation of habitat elsewhere in the Mojave.  The decision, however, is shortsighted since it ignores the fact that the impacts of the project will last for centuries after the Ivanpah project closes down in 45 years.  Even with conservation land set aside, the tortoises that are translocated are unlikely to survive according to results of a separate translocation at a nearby military base.  Tortoises that are moved are placed in unfamiliar territory, where they may not have an established burrow or drinking spots, and may not know where desert plants will bloom after rains.  This leaves them more vulnerable to disease and predators, to include coyotes and ravens.

What the Ivanpah Valley will look like after nearly 4,000 acres are bladed for construction. Image from BLM FEIS.
The pre-construction surveys are already underway, and this time next year the Ivanpah Valley will be scarred, and the health of its wildlife population in peril.  Below is a great write-up by Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, which was also highlighted on Mr. Clarke's Coyote Crossing blog .

More than 100 biologists and contract workers fanned out across a nearly pristine stretch of the eastern Mojave Desert on Friday to start rounding up tortoises blocking construction of the first major solar energy plant to be built on public land in Southern California.
On a sunny morning in the height of tortoise courting season, the biologists methodically peered under every bush and into every hole on both sides of a two-mile lane traversing the project site. Following close behind, workers bladed century-old creosote bushes and erected fencing in areas that will soon be declared a “tortoise-free zones.”
The effort in San Bernardino County’s panoramic Ivanpah Valley, just north of Interstate 15 and about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, disrupted complex tortoise social networks and blood lines linked for centuries by dusty trails, shelters and hibernation burrows.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Am I Advocating Sensible Policy or NIMBYism?

I received a thoughtful response to my previous blog post from Ken.  I'm copying the comment and my response below, because I think Ken's questions helped me think more critically about my position on utility-scale solar proposed for California's deserts.  I have noted before on this blog that I do not expect there to be absolutely no development in the Mojave Desert.  This is not a "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) scenario.  The point is to encourage sensible land management in policy that balances the various demands we have for natural resources.  Unfortunately, it is not sensible policy to expect that California's deserts can meet all of our energy needs...

From Ken:
What are your solutions? It is easy to point out environmental shortcomings of any specific method of producing the energy civilization consumes. It is much harder to come up with viable solutions.

I'm not advocating for or against this project, I'm just advocating for everyone to work together to find real solutions and I want people to realize that we all need to share in the costs of generating the energy we consume.

Is this project really worse than mountain top removal in West Virginia in order to get to thin veins of coal? Is this project worse than the tar sands projects in Canada? Is this project worse the environmental destruction wrought by offshore oil platforms exploding and spewing oil into our oceans for months before being capped?

Without a doubt, the best solution is to reduce the amount of energy we consume in the first place, but the reality is no matter how much we reduce our usage, we'll still need energy. We need to find the most sustainable means of producing the energy we need and we all need to share in ALL the costs associated with producing it. Saying "not in my back yard" while consuming energy that destroys someone else's back yard is unconscionable.
My Response:

Ken,
Thank you for the taking the time to comment. I do believe that the cumulative impact of renewable energy development in the Mojave can be more destructive than oil drilling or mountain-top removal. If dozens of large scale projects are approved, the total effect will essentially be the death of an entire ecosystem. It's a fragile ecosystem that is already under threat from poor land management policy.

I agree that there is an acceptable solution that we spread the costs of producing renewable energy.  I mentioned a couple possible solutions in my previous blog post -- roof top solar or utility-scale solar sited on disturbed land.  Two projects recently approved deserve recognition for avoiding pristine habitat -- Beacon Solar and Abengoa Solar, since they are located on former agricultural land.

I agree that saying "not in my backyard" while other forms of energy -- coal or oil-- destroy someone else's backyard is unconscionable. But shifting the destruction to another area is short-sighted, and wrapping that destruction in "green" rhetoric is deceitful.  That very deceit has clouded America's ability to properly assess the pros and cons of solar energy sited in California's deserts.  People see images of solar power projects and assume it is free of cost, just as Americans were enamored with the construction of canals and dams for decades, not realizing the true cost of those projects until later.

This really is not a question of NIMBY ("not in my backyard").  Utility scale solar will require around 600 square miles of land to fulfill all of the State's energy needs.  This is not an isolated project in a single small town.  This is the beginning of a policy position that will impact entire landscapes and cause irreparable environmental damage.

I am for renewable energy, and I understand that some projects will impact desert habitat.  But we need to be honest with ourselves -- utility scale solar is not all "green" and we need to start siting solar on our rooftops, and acting more seriously to reduce energy usage if we're serious about changing the paradigm.  Otherwise it's the same story, just a different location.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is Utility-Scale Solar Power Actually "Green" Energy?

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are set to approve several utility-scale solar power projects this year, there is one question energy companies do not want to answer.  Can we meet our energy needs with solar energy without destroying as much of the environment as mountain-top coal mining or deep sea oil drilling?  

California wants to meet 33% of the State's energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020.  According to CEC estimates, energy companies will need to seize nearly 128,000 acres of land in order to produce enough solar energy to meet the 33% requirement.  That is equivalent to approximately 200 square miles.   The majority of the projects that the BLM and CEC are considering are proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California.  Many of these proposed sites are on public land.

If we were to meet 100% of California's energy needs through utility-scale solar, it would require nearly 600 square miles of land, and if the BLM and CEC continue to justify the destruction of pristine open space for these projects, we will decimate the ecological health of California's deserts.  Already endangered desert tortoises will lose habitat and genetic connectivity.  Unique and specialized desert plants will dwindle.  The bighorn sheep that forage on these plants will disappear. 

The bottom-line is that utility-scale solar power will have an enormously destructive impact on California's environment, and rob Americans of open space that belongs to them, not profit-seeking energy companies.  Instead of going camping, wildflower viewing, admiring desert vistas from the historic Mojave Road or Route 66, our open space will be converted into a giant industrial zone.

Utility-scale solar projects that consume vast blocks of quality desert land is not the answer.   As politicians and Wall Street preach about the virtues of green energy, why do we blindly hand energy companies a pass to destroy our environment.  It's time to recognize that the path we're on is not sustainable.

As embarrassing as it may be for some of the national environmental groups that supported this destruction, we need to recognize our mistake and promote 1.) properly sited solar energy on land that is already disturbed (near urban centers or on former agricultural land) and 2.) push for distributed energy, which basically means installing solar panels on rooftops, using energy where it's created.  This will create more jobs and preserve our open space.

Before we go too far down the wrong path, we need to change course.  No regrets.