Tessera Solar LLC recently sold its development rights for the Calico site to K Road Solar LLC, but the Sierra Club's action may at least delay construction on the site until a more thorough environmental review is conducted, and hopefully encourage future developers to more carefully consider where they build new energy facilities.
Here is a summary of the charges laid out in the petition, as applicable under California's environmental and administrative laws:
- The CEC proceedings failed to document the risks and impacts associated with the translocation of desert tortoises (relocating them from the project site to other habitat), and relied upon translocation to "fully mitigate" the project even though testimony indicates that translocation is not supported by scientific evidence as a successful mitigation measure. Furthermore, the petition noted that even though the CEC relied upon translocation of tortoises to justify its approval, it did not even have a final translocation plan to review.
- The CEC approved the project relying upon the potentially infeasible purchase and conservation of desert tortoise habitat to offset the impacts of the Calico solar power project. The petition points out that a.) the CEC had not identified any suitable land that was available for purchase, and b.) promoted restoring acquired mitigation land with measures that are not feasible. The challenge also takes issue with the in-lieu fee program--a fund established for solar developers to pay into in order to meet mitigation requirements. The CEC assumes that the fund managers will be able to fulfill CEC responsibilities under California environmental law, even though mitigation land had not been identified.
- The CEC acknowledges the cumulative impacts of all of the solar projects, which would destroy tens of thousands of acres of desert tortoise habitat, yet contradicted itself by ruling that the cumulative impact of the Calico project would not be significant. The CEC also approved the Calico Solar power project before regional mitigation planning under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan had been completed, which would have sought to address the significant cumulative impacts.
- The CEC failed to mitigate impacts on the threatened Mojave Fringe-toed lizard and rare white-margined beardtongue desert wildflower, and its proceedings were inadequate in identifying the impacts of the Calico Solar power project on these species.
- The CEC did not fully consider how to protect special status birds from the development before approving the project. Most significantly, the CEC did not sufficiently consider impacts on the Golden Eagle, which Federal law mandates that projects cannot "substantially interfere with the breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior of a Golden Eagle."
- The CEC's analysis did not adequately address the potential impacts of the project on Nelson's bighorn sheep movement corridors through the nearby Cady Mountains.
|The lower portion of the Calico Solar project site just before it received winter rains. Cady Mountains in the distance.|
|Close-up shot of a "Calico cactus" found on the site.|
|Desert tortoise roaming the Calico site. Photo from BLM biological assessment.|