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Showing posts from October, 2011

All Eyes on Ivanpah: Will Federal Policy Finally Take Notice?

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BrightSource CEO John Woolard told the media that his company's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS)--a 5.6 square mile energy facility being built on public land in the northeastern Mojave Desert--has "the lowest environmental impact of any project in solar." Anybody familiar with the Ivanpah Valley--a beautiful desert landscape blanketed by creosote bushes and yucca, and ringed by rocky spires inhabited by bighorn sheep--knows that his statement simply could not be true.  Mr. Woolard's attempts to conceal the destructive impact of ISEGS are failing since the project has actually become an icon of poor solar siting, representing the dangers of building vast facilities on ecologically intact desert habitatThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week was confronted with this reality when citizens submitted a conservation plan for the area, and Washington announced a draft policy that could discourage solar development there. 

BrightSource Project an Icon …

BLM Begins Supplemental Environmental Review for Calico Solar

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Despite opposition from the BNSF railroad, conservation groups, and countless concerned citizens, K Road Solar is still intent on building the Calico Solar power project in the central Mojave Desert.  But first they will need to complete a supplemental environmental impact analysis.  An environmental impact statement was actually completed last year and the project approved, but the project plans were sold to K Road Solar, which then modified them enough to warrant additional impact analysis.

Whether or not the Department of Interior approves the project will be a test for its supposed commitment to more judicious siting of large renewable energy projects on public lands.  Three groups -- Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the NRDC -- sent a notice to Interior in August warning against approving the project and pointing out deficiencies in last year's environmental review.  The groups argue that the project could be sited on lands nearby that are already-disturbed for agricul…

Granite Mountain Wind Energy Project Under Review

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The Bureau of Land Management plans to resume environmental review of the Granite Mountain wind energy project proposed by Renewable Energy Systems America (RES).   If the Granite Mountain wind energy project is approved, residents of the Victor Valley are likely to lose the majestic site of a golden eagles soaring above the desert, or the high-pitched tone of bats swooping through the night sky in chase of insects.  The project's environmental review was stalled last year as the Department of Interior basically needed time to figure out how to sneak around a Federal law that prohibits the "take" (harassment or death) of bald and golden eagles.  The spinning blades of wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year.   According to the draft environmental impact statement released in 2010 before the project review was halted, several golden eagles are active in the vicinity of Granite Mountain, along with Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawks, turke…

The Saga of the Suncatcher

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) on 3 October held a hearing to consider whether K Road Solar's planned Calico Solar project would have its permit revoked.  At issue is the 2010 decision by the CEC to permit the project even though Tessera Solar LLC -- the project developer at the time -- told the commission it planned to build the project with 26,000 Suncatchers, a solar technology that was owned by Stirling Energy Systems in the infant stages.  Well, the CEC permitted the project even though some people argued that the technology was unreliable and inefficient, and that the project would destroy essential desert habitat.

Keep in mind, as the CEC begins to review any application for a permit it should consider the following California regulation:
"To prevent any needless commitment of financial resources and regulatory effort prior to a determination of the basic acceptability of and need for the proposed facilities, and the suitability of proposed sites to accommodate …

Governor of California Underestimates Rooftop Solar in Statement

The Governor of California last week repeated his support for destructive solar facilities on desert wildlands in a statement filed with an inter-agency group tasked with developing a conservation plan for California's treasured deserts.  The paper probably represents the Governor's attempt to argue for large solar in the desert at a time when distributed generation (local clean energy, such as rooftop solar) is making strides as a more efficient and sustainable path.  Although the document was carefully worded not to ignore distributed generation as part of the solution, on balance it implies that large scale projects in the desert are a necessity because distributed generation cannot be deployed fast enough to meet California's renewable energy demand.

The Governor's office subtly distorts the facts in order to exaggerate the need for the controversial destruction of ecologically intact desert lands for large solar facilities.   In a single paragraph describing the…

First Ivanpah Tortoise Released; Future in Doubt

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According to the Press-Enterprise, a female desert tortoise was released back into the wild last week after repeatedly attempting to escape from her cage on the site of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, where 127 tortoises remain in captivity after they were cleared from desert that has since been destroyed for the energy facility.  The Press-Enterprise journalist accompanied Federal officials during the release of the tortoise near Clark Mountain in an area north of the solar project.  The remaining 127 tortoises probably will be released after winter.  The negative impact on tortoises is expected to increase, as BrightSource Energy has begun clearing more tortoises from ecologically important desert habitat ahead of the bulldozers.

Unfortunately, many tortoises relocated from their original homes are unlikely to survive. Tortoises relocated from a military training site in the Mojave Desert were monitored by biologists, and nearly half of them perished within two yea…

Desert Liberation

It is a liberation of the soul to see for miles in each direction; to feel your insignificance in a desert expanse, surrounded by life so much stronger than you; to relish a cloud's shadow and accept with humility the sun's rays. The desert will wrestle with your demons and free your calm. The desert's silence and beauty will lure peace back into your heart.

Mohave Ground Squirrel Denied Protection

The US Fish and Wildlife Serve announced this week that the rare Mohave Ground Squirrel (MGS) does not qualify to be listed as an endangered species. The MGS is only found in the western Mojave Desert, which has already been fragmented by urban development, military bases, and off-highway vehicle routes.  In its ruling, the US Fish and Wildlife Service assumes that the Bureau of Land Management is effectively managing off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation, and that at least 40% of solar energy applications will not succeed.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service:
"Based on this information, we conclude that the cumulative impacts of urban and rural development, OHV recreational use, military operations, energy development, transportation infrastructure, grazing, agriculture, mining, and climate change do not currently constitute a significant threat to the Mohave ground squirrel in relation to the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat…

Silver State South Begins Environmental Review

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started the environmental review of the Silver State South solar project, which would destroy or fragment up to 20 square miles of desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Silver State would be built by First Solar Inc, which has also proposed constructing the 3.4 square mile Stateline solar power project nearby.

The BLM is accepting public comments and issues to consider as part of its initial scoping period until 31 October 2011.  You can email comments toSilverStateSouthEIS@blm.gov .

Points the BLM should evaluate in its environmental review include:
The Silver State South solar project could block a wildlife corridor through the Ivanpah Valley, and particularly cut off an important genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise. Maintaining habitat connectivity is an essential element of the recovery plan for the desert tortoise.The project would destroy desert habitat identified by the Nature Conservancy as "biologically core" and not…

Sizing up Ivanpah Valley Destruction

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The desert will make anything seem small.  Consequently, I think we have a hard time grasping the enormity of the destruction solar and wind companies are proposing when they choose to bulldoze intact ecosystems instead of building on already-disturbed lands or investing in distributed generation.

If you walk across a Mojave Desert valley and find a nice perch on one of the surrounding mountains, you'll overlook a vast expanse of creosote bushes, blackbrush, yucca, and Joshua Trees.  The ecosystem may look harsh, but it is teeming with life -- desert tortoises, bobcat, burrowing owls, bighorn sheep, horned lizards, sidewinder snakes, and kangaroo rats, bees, and specialized moths.

When energy companies show up, they see that expanse of nature as a bank account.  The more they build on it, the more money they can put in their pockets.   So when First Solar announced plans to build in the Ivanpah Valley of the northeastern Mojave Desert, it was obvious they had no appreciation for th…

Wind Energy, Waste, Wildlands

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The Ocotillo Express Wind energy project threatens the fragmentation and destruction of over 23 square miles of public land adjacent to Anza-Borrego State Park in the Sonoran Desert of California.  The swath of land -- as big as the city of San Diego -- is a beautiful desert vista ringed by mountains near the small town of Ocotillo, but the project would etch miles of wide roads into the desert and build over 150 wind turbines that are equal in height to 30-story skyscrapers. The project would require tons of cement and steel, and the spinning blades will pose a danger to threatened bird species.  The project would be owned by Pattern Energy Group.  Renewable energy does not have to be so destructive-- solar panels on rooftops, over parking lots, and on already-disturbed lands can meet our energy needs without destroying wildlands.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently considering the proposal, and has published a draft environmental impact statement.   The deadline for public com…