Two Reports Highlight Ecological Importance of Ivanpah Valley

Two separate reports from the Nature Conservancy and the Renewable Energy Action Team indicate that the Ivanpah Valley is important to the ecological health of the Mojave Desert, suggesting the area is not suitable for destructive solar facilities.  The Ivanpah Valley is currently the focus of concerned citizens since at least three massive solar facilities could destroy over 20 square miles of pristine desert in the area, and displace or kill hundreds of endangered desert tortoises.  Many argue that rooftop solar installations--not remote facilities on public land--should be the centerpiece of renewable energy policy.
Solar facilities targeting the Ivanpah Valley:
  • Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System: Under construction by BrightSource Energy LLC, NRG, and Bechtel, with financing from Google. (5.6 square miles)
  • Stateline Solar power project: Proposed by First Solar LLC (3.4 square miles)
  • Silver State North and South: Proposed by First Solar LLC. BLM approved a portion of the project. (12 square miles)
The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT)--a joint Federal and State policy working group--is developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).   The DRECP has incorporated some information from the Nature Conservancy's Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment, and determined that much of the Ivanpah Valley hosts an above average richness of rare species.  On one map in the Nature Conservancy's assessment, most of the Ivanpah Valley is labeled as "ecologically core" and "ecologically intact."  This has been confirmed by subsequent surveys showing the BrightSource Energy solar project is likely to displace or kill hundreds of desert tortoises, a species that has been in decline throughout its range since the 1980s.

The dark green signifies "ecologically core" areas, and light green indicates ecologically intact areas.  The Ivanpah Valley is in the center of this map selection, bisected by Interstate 15.  Screenshot taken from The Nature Conservancy's Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment.
It is perplexing that the Department of Interior's leadership in Washington has approved solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley even though its field offices participating in the Renewable Energy Action Team have identified the area as "ecologically core."  In a twist of events pitting government against government,  REAT had to remind Washington to do a better job of coordinating with its field office when developing solar policy, according to a document made available earlier this month.

In this map segment taken from California agency comments on the Department of Interior's proposed solar energy policy, the brown and green hexagons represent ecologically important and sensitive areas in the Ivanpah Valley (center).  The blue swaths represent areas considered by the Department of Interior for solar energy development.
The larger map developed by the REAT shows conflict between Washington's proposed solar energy zones and important desert habitat.
The desert tortoise population has declined by nearly 90% over its entire range according to studies, making the Ivanpah Valley's thriving population even more remarkable, and worth preserving.

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