Death by a Thousand Cuts: Renewable Energy Plans Imperil Desert Ecosystem

Updated information from the Bureau of Land Management depicts the enormous scale of plans to build solar and wind energy facilities on mostly pristine public land, endangering iconic species such as the desert tortoise and golden eagle, locking up prized outdoor recreation areas, and forever changing the character of California's deserts.  The BLM approved a wave of applications in 2010 totaling some 40 square-miles, the most destructive of which continue to face public and legal opposition, and continues to review dozens of additional projects (sampled below) without adequately assessing the cumulative impacts of so much industrial development on desert ecosystems.

Although the Department of Interior is developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, both plans will likely focus on maximizing industrial development with conservation functions that are unlikely to effectively counteract the ripple effects on natural resources.  The end result will be attempts to salvage what's left and keep surviving species on a lifeline.

The list of proposed solar and wind projects below is just a sample of applications targeting California's deserts, and should not be considered comprehensive.  However, just the projects identified below would affect over 631 square-miles of public land.  Statewide there are nearly 1,000 square-miles of proposed wind and solar projects on public land.

Wind Energy
Jawbone Wind:  A 73 square-mile wind project in the Jawbone Canyon area of the western Mojave Desert. (BLM application # CACA 051454)

Saltdale Wind: This 60 square-mile wind project would be located just north of the Jawbone Wind project.  The developer has is installing wind testing towers.  (BLM application # CACA 049547)

Barren Ridge: A 16.6 square-mile wind facility in the Jawbone Canyon area of the western Mojave Desert near Tehachapi, California.  The BLM initiated analysis to determine if the company could proceed to install test towers. (BLM application # CACA 051016)

Ludlow Wind:  A company received authorization to install 3 wind test towers in the Ludlow area of the central Mojave Desert.  The company is interested in building a 37 square-mile facility.  (BLM application # CACA 048667)

Bristol Wind: The BLM assessed that plans by a wind energy company to conduct wind testing in the Bristol Mountains posed unspecified risks, and de-prioritized this application.  The project would blanket 58 square-miles of pristine desert ridges immediately adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve. (BLM application # CACA 048287)

Pinto Mountains Wind:  This 31 square-mile project would be built outside the northern boundary of the popular Joshua Tree National Park in the Pinto Mountains.  The project developer received authorization in March to begin testing.  (BLM application # CACA 050711)

Silurian Valley/Iberdola Wind:  A 10.5 square-mil facility that would require 15 miles of new transmission lines.  The project would be located north of Baker and the Soda Mountains.  The BLM issued a Finding of No Significant Impact in its authorization of wind testing. (BLM application # CACA 051581 and # CACA 047455)

Graham Pass Wind: The current application involves testing on a couple of square miles in the Chuckwalla Valley,  immediately northeast of the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range.  The project's initial application identified over 40 square miles for the proposed footprint. (BLM application # 052856  previously # 050770)

Eagle Mountain Wind: The BLM is currently considering authorizing wind testing on Eagle Mountain next to Joshua Tree National Park (southern border).  The full project would encompass 4.2 square miles.  (BLM application # CACA 051664)

Riverside Wind Energy LLC:  This company is proposing an 18 square mile facility just south of the proposed Graham Pass Wind project, and is in the very initial stages of applying for permission to install test towers.

Black Mountain Wind: A 3.2 square mile wind proposal southeast of the Chocolate Mountains.  Applicant is conducting biological surveys of the area.  (BLM application # CACA 052078)

Gold Basin Wind: This 13.1 square-mile project is would be built in the same vicinity as Black Mountain Wind.  The BLM was considering authorization of wind testing as of late 2010. (BLM application # CACA 051947)

Ocotillo Express Wind:  This 14 square-mile project would destroy beautiful Sonoran Desert habitat next to Anza-Borrego State Park.  The BLM is currently accepting public comments on the environmental impact statement. (BLM application # CACA 050916)

Ord-Rodman and Stoddard Wells area:  A slew of wind energy applications have been submitted for over 100 square miles of ridges and valleys south of Barstow and Daggett, and north of Apple Valley.  Some of the projects overlap with designated conservation areas.  The following is just a sampling of the applications and proposed sizes: 38 square-miles (Stoddard-Dagget, #049204), 34 square-miles (Lucerne II, #CACA 51772), 6.9 square-miles (Camp Rock), 4.5 square-miles (Sand Ridge), 5.5 square miles (Verde Resources). 

Granite Wind:  A 3.3 square mile project just east of Apple Valley.  The project was on hold because of potential impacts on Golden Eagles in the area, but the BLM recently resumed the review process to further assess the project's impacts. (BLM application # CACA 048254)

Troy Lake Wind: A 15.8 square mile wind facility just west of the Cady Mountains in the central Mojave Desert.  The are provides key Bighorn Sheep habitat.  As of earlier this year, BLM was consulting with the Department of Defense to determine if there were any conflicts with DOD operations. (BLM application # CACA 048472)

Black Lava Butte Wind This 6.3 square-mile project would be built near the Bighorn Wilderness Area and would likely impact Native American petroglyphs. The BLM authorized the installation of wind testing towers without notice given to the local community of Pioneertown.  (BLM application # 048689)

Solar Energy
Caithness Solar:  A proposal to bulldoze 6.8 square miles of pristine desert in a location identified by the Nature Conservancy as "biologically core."  The project application has been de-prioritized by the BLM due to unspecified conflicts.  (BLM application #CACA 049584)

Troy Lake Solar:  A 6 square mile solar facility that would use photovoltaic panels just west of the Cady Mountains and east of Newberry Springs. (BLM application #CACA 049585)  Another application in the immediate vicinity known as the Newberry Springs Solar project was recently withdrawn, but the BLM approved the nearby 7 square-mile Calico Solar power project last year (#CACA049537).

Siberia:  This project does not yet have a name, but is in an area of the central Mojave Desert known as Siberia, and would build on 21 square miles of public land.  Although the proposal would affect lands identified by Senator Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2011, the company has told the BLM that they are still interested in moving forward with initial planning.  (BLM application # CACA 049421)

Broadwell Solar Energy Generating System: This project would cover 13.4 square miles of pristine desert southeast of the Cady Mountains. The plan of development process was put on hold after Senator Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act, which would set aside lands in the area for conservation and recreation. (BLM application # CACA 048875)

Stateline Solar power project:  First Solar Inc plans to build on 3.4 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Plant and wildlife in the area is already in trouble because of the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, which began construction in 2010.  Desert experts are concerned that further industrial development by the Stateline project in this otherwise pristine valley would undermine a biologically core area of the Mojave Desert ecosystem.  (BLM application #048669) 

Palo Verde:  BrightSource Energy, the same company responsible for one of the most destructive solar projects under construction (Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System), is also proposing to build a facility on 19 square-miles of desert east of the Little Chuckwalla Mountains, and south of the Blythe Solar power project, which began construction last year. (Palo Verde BLM application # CACA 051967) 

Mule Mountain:  A 3.2 square mile project in the Chuckwalla Valley, north of Interstate 10. (BLM application # CACA 049488) 

Mule Mountain III:  This project would be just west of the proposed Palo Verde project, and blanket 12.7 square-miles of the Chuckwalla Valley with solar panels, likely impacting habitat for the desert tortoise and Mojave fringe-toed lizard.  (BLM application # CACA 050390) 

Desert Quartzite:  A 11.3 square-mile project proposed by First Solar, also in the vicinity of the proposed Mule Mountain and Palo Verde projects. (BLM application # CACA 049397) 

Desert Sunlight: This nearly 6.5 square-mile facility will be visible to hikers in Joshua Tree National Park, and will displace or kill threatened desert tortoises, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, and western burrowing owls.  The project is in the final stages of the approval process, and will be built by First Solar Inc. (BLM application # CACA 048649) 

Desert Harvest:  A 1.4 square-mile facility proposed for the area north of Desert Center, and immediately adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park.  (BLM application # CACA 049491) 

Leopold Solar:  One of the largest solar applications, the Leopold Solar company would build on nearly 55 square-miles of the Ward Valley.  The company was still in the initial phases of the plan of development as of May 2011. (BLM application # CACA 049002)

Johnson Valley Solar Energy Generating System:  This project would involve a mix of BLM and State lands in the Johnson Valley, west of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base.  It would take 2.4 square-miles of BLM land, but probably many more square miles of private and State lands.  The project is being proposed by BrightSource Energy.  (BLM application # CACA 052796)

Superstition Solar I:  Plans to cover 8.2 square-miles of Sonoran Desert habitat south of the Salton Sea.  The project would cover some lands donated for conservation. (BLM application # CACA 049150)

Ogilby Solar: A 11.5 square-mile project proposed for public land southeast of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. (BLM application # CACA 049615)

Mapping the solar and wind projects:
You can download the map below from Scribd. The Bureau of Land Management updates the map and makes it available on the California Desert District website (here).

The various blue shaded areas are wind energy and wind testing applications, and the red shaded areas are proposed solar facilities. This map is current as of July 2011.
July 2011 Renewable Energy Application Map

Comments

  1. Thank you for this list. It's stunning, and heartbreaking, to see the extent of this plan to industrialize the desert. Thank you for your care and efforts.

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  2. Adrienne, thank you for your perspective on nature. Your wordpress blog (http://adrienneadams.wordpress.com/) and selections from John Muir are a good reminder of why any of us spend time to speak up for and protect our wildlands.

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