Destructive Ridgecrest Solar Project in Limbo

German firm Solar Millennium LLC, and its American front company ("Solar Trust of America") recently decided to change the proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project from all concentrating solar thermal mirrors to photovoltaic panels (PV), a more economically efficient technology.  However, when Solar Millennium asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) for permission to modify its Ridgecrest project to PV technology,  the CEC staff declined to continue certification for the project and is likely to relinquish jurisdiction to another authority.  The CEC only reviews and certifies thermal energy projects, and PV technology is not classified as thermal.  The legal snag is likely to further delay consideration of the project, which the CEC staff previously assessed to be poorly sited and likely to have significant negative impacts on desert wildlife. 

Solar Millennium is desperately trying to fit a square through a round hole with the Ridgecrest project.  After the CEC staff announced last year that impacts on the threatened Mohave Ground Squirrel and desert tortoise would preclude it from recommending certification, the company decided to commission a biological study of ground squirrel connectivity so that it could find a way to still build the project in the middle of a corridor linking core populations of the Mohave Ground Squirrel.  However, the CEC staff warned that the environmental impacts would still be too great, and the company abandoned its ground squirrel study.  In January, the company filed a document with the CEC giving up on the certification process.  However, not long after, the company's lawyers indicated that the filing was a mistake, and revived the certification process.  

Wildflowers in bloom on the site of the proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project.  The site hosts an active Mohave Ground Squirrel corridor and a robust desert tortoise population.
The company apparently decided that the project could still be profitable using PV technology, so they proposed modifying the original proposal from concentrating solar thermal (using mirrors to heat up fluid to power generators) to PV (the same technology on a solar-power calculator or watch).   The CEC's decision to dismiss the project and hand it off to another authority (probably the California Department of Fish and Game) is likely to complicate Solar Millennium's application process.

Solar Millennium should consider investing in distributed generation--solar panels on warehouse rooftops or over parking lots.  You might have to pay some nominal fees at city hall, but at least you won't be driving plant and wildlife into extinction.

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