Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BLM Begins Supplemental Environmental Review for Calico Solar

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 agricultural or industrial uses.  Another environmental group-- the Wilderness Society -- recently touted Interior's reported commitment to develop a smarter energy policy that avoids destroying ecologically intact lands for solar facilities, although Interior's actions up until this point suggest it will continue to permit proposals on some of the most critical desert habitat.

The creosote scrub habitat above is where K Road Solar is building its Calico Solar power project.  The 7 square mile facility that would stretch almost to the Cady Mountains in the distance.  Dozens of desert tortoises would be displaced or killed.
If approved, the project would destroy up to 7 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat, displacing or killing dozens of the reclusive animals. The southern portion of the proposed project site is noted for its sandy washes where Mojave fringe-toed lizards thrive, along with a pocket of rare desert plants.  The area also provides foraging habitat for a bighorn sheep herd that spends most of its time in the nearby Cady Mountains.

A cactus in bloom on the site of the proposed Calico Solar power project.

Prickly poppies, surrounded by bright yellow desert dandelions in bloom this spring near a sandy wash that cuts across the lower part of the Calico Solar site.

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