The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium. The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impacts on wildlife, habitat, and ecosystems sustained by those lands" without "smart planning."
never had the ability to build the project in the first place, and sold the project to K-Road Solar. The new company decided to change the project plans to include more photovoltaic panels (the same technology used for rooftop solar installations). This change triggered the need for further review, which the Department of Interior has yet to begin.
The wisdom of relocating the project is even further bolstered by the project's switch to photovoltaic technology. It's an utterly unnecessary and inefficient waste of public wildlands to carpet the area with photovoltaic panels when the same technology can be placed more cheaply closer to where the energy is used-- such as on rooftops, over parking lots, or on already-disturbed lands. The Environmental Protection Agency's RE-powering America's Lands program has identified many sites that are ideal for renewable energy but are of little ecological value, for example.
The battle against the poorly sited Calico solar power project has been a long one. The Sierra Club challenged the California Energy Commission's (CEC) approval of the project in the California Supreme Court, but the challenge was thrown out in April. The Sierra Club persisted, and sought to halt the CEC's attempt to hastily re-permit K Road Solar's altered plans. Another opponent of the project, BNSF railroad, has been calling attention to the potential danger to a railway that passes through the middle of the proposed project. Damage to the rail line or an accident could shut down one of the few major cargo arteries to the Los Angeles basin and result in significant economic impact.
|The footprint of the project overlayed on Google Earth imagery hardly captures the scale of the potential destruction. Miles across, an entire landscape would be industrialized, and the movement of wildlife severely restricted.|
Building in the middle of the desert is not only environmentally destructive, it is economically inefficient. The projects often require new or upgraded transmission lines, sometime costing billions of dollars. This cost is passed on to the electricity customers. Solar developers may argue that the sun's radiation (known as "insolation") is stronger in the desert valley's, making the solar panels more efficient. The benefit is only marginal, however, especially since transmission lines will lose anywhere from 7-15% of the electricity transported from far away.
There are many reasons why solar panels where we live are better than putting solar panels on public lands, but the least tangible are probably the most compelling for me. Stumbling on a visual cacophony of wildflower blooms and admiring the dogged persistence of life in the desert. Watching bare desert mountains cast shadows over creosote bushes and cactus during sunset. Waking up to the yip and yelp of coyotes across a desert valley, or just coming across a solitary and stubborn desert tortoise, slowly digging a new burrow to call home. These are the experiences I want to protect from global warming, and from an industrial rampage that misuses the notion of "green" energy in the interest of corporate profit. Hopefully the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and NRDC prevail in preserving the natural treasures threatened by Calico, if not the many other desert cathedrals we stand to lose to poorly sited renewable energy projects.
|This adult desert tortoise was photographed near the site of the proposed Calico solar power project. Photo by Basin and Range Watch.|