Stateline Solar Begins Environmental Review Process

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has begun reviewing the proposed Stateline Solar power project, which is expected to destroy at least 3.4 square-miles of the Ivanpah Valley.  First Solar Inc. has been considering whether or not to move forward with this controversial project since the nearby Brightsource Energy solar project (ISEGS) has made headlines for its unprecedented impacts on the threatened Desert Tortoise.

This map, obtained by Basin and Range Watch, shows the projected footprint of the photovoltaic panels that will carpet excellent desert habitat with steel and glass.  The desert habitat to the west of the Stateline project is already being bulldozed for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) by Brightsource Energy.
Probably seeking to shield the company from expected opposition, First Solar is reportedly looking to strike a deal with NatureServe, a non-profit with Wall Street ties,  to draw up a conservation plan for the the Ivanpah Valley in an attempt to ease concerns.  However, desert biologists are alarmed by the scale of proposed solar and mining development in the area, which could jeopardize a robust tortoise population and pockets of rare plants. 
  • The relocation of dozens of tortoises from the adjacent Brightsource Solar project site during construction has already placed stress on the Ivanpah tortoise population.  The Brightsource project is expected to displace or kill up to 140 adult tortoises, and over a thousand hatchlings during construction.  Some of the displaced animals may have adopted new homes in the same place now being eyed by First Solar for the Stateline project.
  • The tortoises in Ivanpah are considered genetically significant by biologists, and the Ivanpah Valley was identified in the Nature Conservancy's Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment as "biologically core".
  • Other proposed projects in the Ivanpah Valley include transmission line upgrades, a natural gas line to serve the Mountain Pass rare earth minerals mine, the Silver State solar power project, and additional rare earth mining on the eastern edge.
It's not clear how NatureServe plans to justify an additional 3.4 square miles of destruction in the Ivanpah Valley, especially when the Stateline project's footprint would essentially destroy and constrict some of the best remaining tortoise habitat in the area.  In the interest of transparency, one of NatureServe's chairpersons is a partner in Goldman Sachs, which recently recommended investors buy First Solar Inc stocks, and has invested in utility-scale solar projects in the desert. 

This photo by Basin and Range Watch shows the creosote-bursage desert habitat, much of which would be destroyed by First Solar's Stateline project.
The BLM is currently seeking scoping comments for the Stateline solar project.  The BLM's site for the project is here.  The Federal Register notice is published hereYou can send scoping comments by 6 September 2011 to statelinesolar@blm.gov .

A photo of the cavedwelling evening primrose (Oenothera cavernae) in bloom, a rare desert forb discovered in the Ivanpah Valley in 2006.  Photo by James M. Andre, copyright 2008.

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