Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Blooms

Pollination in action as a bee visits phacelia (lace-leafed?) in the Newberry Mountains Wilderness Area of the Mojave Desert.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Revised Biological Assessment of Ivanpah Site Underscores Poor Choices

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a revised biological assessment for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, indicating the likely presence of a high density of endangered desert tortoises on the 5.6 square mile swath of public land.  The revised assessment is required because BLM and the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the number of tortoises impacted by the project would far exceed the 38 expected to be killed or displaced by construction and operation.  The assessment provides detailed estimates of the number of tortoises that might be killed,  harassed (marked, handled, etc), translocated (moved a distance away from where it was found), or held in quarantine. 

Capture/Collect:
  • BLM now anticipates capturing and collecting about 162 adult tortoises (animals that are 160mm or larger).  
  • At least 60, but as many as 90 non-adult tortoises (smaller than 160mm) will be captured, although this represents only a fraction of the expected non-adult population on the project site.  The rest are likely to go unnoticed during surveys and end up crushed by construction activity.
Kills:
  • Up to 700 non-adult tortoises during the 3 year construction phase are expected to die. Non-adult tortoises are difficult to spot and remove from burrows, resulting in an estimated 90% mortality rate due to construction.
  • BLM estimates up to 9 adult tortoises (160mm or larger) will be killed during the 3 year construction phase.
 Harassment:
  • BLM anticipates harassing 1,025 adult tortoises, and 2,349 non-adult tortoises, bringing the total number to over 3,000. 
  • Defined as any sort of handling, marking or relocation, harassment is the broadest category assessed in the BLM report, and covers tortoises impacted over an area much larger than just the project site.  The total area includes the project site, the locations that receive translocated tortoises, and identified control sites.
Why are there so many tortoises?
The previous tortoise surveys were conducted during drought years, which made it difficult for biologists to acquire accurate numbers.  However, during the environmental review process for the project, desert experts highlighted the pristine and high quality nature of the habitat, arguing that another site should be found for the solar power project.  The high number of tortoises is confirmation of this assessment.

Since most of the tortoises that will be impacted by the project are juveniles, this is also a testament to the health of the tortoise population in the Ivanpah Valley, showing that it is reproducing.  Most hatchling tortoises do not survive to become adults due to predation and other natural causes, but the solar power project assures that an even higher number of juveniles will not reach adulthood. 

Overall, the high tortoise density is a tribute to the Ivanpah Valley's ecological health.  The BrightSource project should never have been approved for this location in the first place.

Where will they be moved?
The BLM will face increased difficulty finding places to move so many tortoises.  Relocating tortoises to habitat nearby will only put stress on the tortoises already resident there, increasing competition for resources.  Other experts are concerned that some areas identified to receive tortoises may not be of sufficient habitat quality or are too close to Interstate 15, which presents a hazard to tortoises and drivers.  Furthermore, tortoises that are moved far from their home range are more likely to die with a couple years.

A separate document from the California Energy Commission (CEC) confirmed that two tortoises died as a result of construction activity over the past two months.  One juvenile tortoise was found crushed in the middle of a road, and another died of heat stress, possibly as it tried to return to its home range which had already been bulldozed and cleared of shade-providing vegetation.  Another tortoise was found with unnatural lacerations on one of its legs and bleeding profusely.  That tortoise survived after receiving treatment, according to the CEC report.  Certainly many more juvenile tortoises have already been killed, but their deaths have gone unnoticed because of their small size and small burrows.

What's next?
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the revised biological assessment, and reserves the right to call "jeopardy,"  essentially halting further construction or limiting the project to just the initial phase.  The Fish and Wildlife Service could also simply modify the incidental "take" permit--which says how many endangered species BrightSource Energy is allowed to displace or kill--and let the project proceed. 

BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar project is a clear example of why utility-scale solar projects are the wrong answer to climate change.  Distributed generation --rooftop solar and smaller facilities on already-disturbed land, can cut down greenhouse gas emissions while preserving pristine wildlands.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BrightSource Energy's Plans in Trouble--Buyer's Remorse?

BrightSource Energy is offering to reduce its Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System project by 12% in response to concerns about its environmental impacts, but will that be enough?  The company already exceeded the "take" limit established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service since it has displaced at least 49 endangered desert tortoises, as of February.  The project was only approved to displace 36.  According to High Country News, a second tortoise died on the site from heat distress as it attempted to return to its now-destroyed burrow in a bulldozed area of the project.

The company now expects to displace or kill at least 140 tortoises if all three phases of the approved project are completed.  BrightSource Energy's 12% footprint reduction is likely inadequate, and an official interviewed by High Country News stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service reserves the right to call "jeopardy" (limiting the project) if the current review determines that it will have significant impacts on the endangered species.  Construction on the site was mostly halted as of mid-April.

BrightSource Energy fought its way onto the 5.6 square mile plot of public land on pristine desert tortoise habitat and won hasty environmental approvals from the Department of Interior and California Energy Commission last year.  Perhaps now BrightSource Energy executives are asking themselves why they did not invest in distributed generation, or a solar project on land that is already disturbed and of no ecological value, such as the Westlands Solar Park--a 30,000 acre area once used for farming. 

A tortoise emerging from a burrow in the Mojave Desert.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hetch Hetchy and the Ivanpah Valley: Preserving Local Values While Meeting Global Needs

In 1913, John Muir found himself confronting formidable forces that sought to entomb a pristine valley he had long fought to protect.  Congress, the White House, and San Francisco's water utility were eager to fill the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite with water that would supply a growing metropolis far away on California's coast.  Muir was an amicable, reasonable and open-minded naturalist, as portrayed in A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster.  He did not fight projects for the sake of obstruction, but for sensible policy. There were other sources of water closer to San Fransisco, he argued, and it was needlessly accepted that the city's growth and thirst should not be tamed or made more efficient.

Muir would not relent in his battle to save Hetch Hetchy, even when his own friends betrayed him.  Andrew Carnegie cast Muir's concerns aside and said:
"John Muir is a fine Scotchman... but for all that it is too foolish to say that the imperative needs of a city to a full and pure water supply should be thwarted, for the sake of a few trees, or for scenery, no matter how beautiful it might be." 
Congressman William Kent derided Muir's spiritual view of Hetch Hetchy in front of other legislators, saying:
"I hope you will not take my friend, Muir, seriously, for he is a man entirely without social sense.  With him it is me and God and the rock where God put it, and that is the end of the story.  I know him well, and as far as this proposition is concerned, he is mistaken." 
Money and artificially inflated human need would prevail.  Congress and President Wilson signed the valley over to San Francisco, and nearly 10 years later Hetch Hetchy was under 300 feet of water. 
A photo of the Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite, taken circa 1900, before the construction of a dam that submerged the scenic valley.  Photo from Wikipedia.
As one proponent of the damming of Hetch Hetchy argued, the purpose of conservation was to "take every part of the land and put it to that use in which it will best serve the most people."

We have certainly made strides in conservation since 1913, but arguments made against Muir then are being thrown at citizens once again.  This time Washington and Wall Street are selling a destructive snake oil to cure a real and urgent illness--climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions.  Americans are being asked to sacrifice nature for the "highest purpose" and benefiting the most people.  The Department of Interior--seeking to accommodate solar energy companies backed by Google, Morgan Stanley, Chevron, and Goldman Sachs--plans to sacrifice hundreds of square miles of mostly pristine American deserts for massive solar facilities.

Washington approved dozens of square miles of large solar projects throughout Nevada and California last year alone.  Two of the approved projects will rip apart the ecological balance of the Ivanpah Valley--a serene and graceful landscape carved out of the northeastern Mojave Desert.  BrightSource Energy and First Solar have already begun construction on the two projects in this nearly pristine desert valley, mirroring the competition between green and greed that raged over Hetch Hetchy almost a century ago.  

Kenneth Zweibel of George Washington University's Solar Institute--and also founder of his own solar manufacturing business--told the Desert Sun newspaper recently that even though large solar facilities such as BrightSource's and First Solar's projects would cause significant local destruction, they were a necessary development.  His support for big solar sounds eerily like the arguments made by San Francisco's water barons:
“There's much bigger value in helping the whole society, the whole world, than in the local issues. Something you are trying to protect is being changed, but it's helping so much in terms of climate change, energy self sufficiency and clean energy, it's a sacrifice that's appropriate to take.”
In 2008, Zweibel co-authored an article in the Scientific American that supported paving over much of America's southwest with solar panels.  Mr. Zweibel failed to mention that this would only meet a fraction of America's renewable energy needs and probably push several species to extinction.

A commenter on another press article titled "Are New Solar Power Projects Anti-Environmental" in Miller-McCune complained that "local interests" lost sight of the climate change threat, and should not be allowed to stand in the way of big solar.  The commenter used the name "czichella", believed to be Carl Zichella of the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

Mr. Zichella said:
"Unfortunately many people with very local interests are overstating the impacts of these developments, which, while large, constitute a tiny area of the desert."
The blue blobs on the map below represent proposed solar energy projects in just a portion of Southern California's desert. Some of the projects would be the size of the cities they power.  I guess Mr. Zichella found a different definition for "tiny." 




Other so-called leaders of national environmental organizations have argued that the loss of beautiful landscapes and scenic vistas that put America's natural heritage on display should not be used as an excuse to stop massive renewable energy projects.

Atlantic Monthly editor Alexis Madrigal--who is promoting his new book idolizing BrightSource Energy--called for a new type of environmentalism that focused on human use instead of preserving nature in a pristine state. On Earth Day, he published a piece calling the conservation of land "boring." His idea of environmentalism?  Industrializing public wildlands and putting them in the hands of wealthy corporations.  And if you do not agree, you should be ashamed of yourself, because you are not thinking of the greater good.

A portion of the Ivanpah Valley, much of which is set to be bulldozed for giant solar projects.  BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System alone is expected to displace or kill 140 endangered desert tortoises, and threaten already rare desert wildflowers and bighorn sheep foraging habitat.
These are only a few of the narrow-minded and greedy arguments that bear frightening similarities to comments made by Muir's opponents in 1913. Muir would undoubtedly be an advocate for renewable energy, but his passion for Mother Nature's cathedrals would have prompted him to seek a wiser solution.  He would not have had to look far.   

Local solutions are being supported by local-minded citizens and naturalists.  The type of concerned citizens derided by Zichella, Madrigal, Zweibel, Carnegie, and Kent.   Washington and Wall Street lobbyists may see dollar signs painted on public lands, but concerned citizens all see an answer to climate change closer to home.  Rooftop solar (also known as distributed generation) can generate renewable energy more efficiently than large facilities in the middle of the desert, which require costly transmission lines and taxpayer subsidies, not to mention higher electricity rates.  

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ironically stands amidst rooftop solar panels near downtown Los Angeles as he announces plans to bulldoze California's public lands for Big Solar.  A better solution was literally right under his nose.
California has already installed 836 MW of rooftop solar.  This is no small accomplishment considering the lack of policy support for distributed generation.  Feed-in-tariffs, like the structure called for by concerned citizens in Nevada, would encourage homeowners, apartment building managers, and small businesses to install more rooftop solar panels by crediting them for excess energy generated by their panels.  Tax incentives for citizens that install solar panels are in place, but could be strengthened.  The Department of Energy plans to provide over $2 billion in taxpayer-backed financing for a single destructive and risky solar facility in the middle of the desert.  Why not put that money back in the pockets of homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar, instead? Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is another way to encourage rooftop solar--allowing homeowners to finance solar installations through their property tax bills over time.  Rooftop solar often increases property values, and will cut electricity bills. 

These are the solutions Muir would be pointing to in defense of his cathedrals.  Hopefully this time Washington will listen to the local voices before we lose more of our wild lands to unnecessary destruction.

A computer rendering of the Ivanpah Valley with just BrightSource Energy's project.  Imagine two more massive solar facilities in this same view, destroying nearly 22 square miles of the majestic desert floor.  First Solar is planning to start construction soon on its Silver State project, and is proposing the Stateline project.
Sunset over Ivanpah Valley, with the Clark Mountains in the background.  Photo by Basin and Range Watch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Parts of Ivanpah Solar Construction Temporarily Halted

The Department of Interior ordered BrightSource Energy LLC to temporarily halt construction on phases 2 and 3 of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System since the project's impacts on the endangered desert tortoise have exceeded initial estimates.  The 5.6 square mile project is being built on public land and was approved by the Department of Interior and California Energy Commission in October after a hasty environmental review process.   Washington and Sacramento were intent on approving the project in time for BrightSource to qualify for taxpayer-backed financing.

Creosote bush scrub habitat in the Ivanpah Valley, with the Clark Mountains in the background.  This photo was taken in March 2010, before construction began.
During the environmental review last year, the Department of Interior estimated that the Ivanpah project would displace or kill 34 desert tortoises, which was still a phenomenally high number for a species that is in decline throughout its range and a testament to the pristine habitat targeted for destruction by the company.  When BrightSource Energy bulldozed phase 1 and part of phase 2, however, the company displaced 49 tortoises, prompting the Department of Interior to revise its estimates.  As of late March, Interior announced that it now expected the project to displace or kill as many as 140 desert tortoises.

A captive tortoise foraging at BLM's Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area visitor center.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service assesses that the tortoise faces a difficult recovery based on current threats, including climate change and habitat destruction.
Since BrightSource Energy's impacts on the desert tortoise clearly exceed initial estimates, the Department of Interior must now issue a revised biological opinion and reconsider the project's approvals.  It's not clear if, or how soon Interior will give the project the green light again.  According to the temporary suspension order, construction activities can continue in areas already bulldozed and cleared of tortoises, which includes phase 1 and a portion of phase 2.  The rest of phase 2 and phase 3 must now be left untouched.

This photo by Erin Whitfield shows destruction of the Ivanpah Valley for phase 1 and part of phase 2 of BrightSource's project.  This represents only a third of the total proposed project.
Interior's suspension order comes a week after Google Inc.  announced plans to invest $100 million in BrightSource's project.  The company was quoted as saying that it saw the project as a "potentially transformative project" that is "good for the environment and a good business opportunity."  Google is ironically ill-informed, investing in one of the most poorly planned renewable energy projects since the Glen Canyon Dam, paying to push the tortoise closer to extinction.   The company's money would probably see a much quicker return if it were invested in distributed solar generation (rooftop solar), or projects on already-disturbed land.

Just a small portion of BrightSource's planned destruction in the Ivanpah Valley.

The Ivanpah Valley is also being targeted for destruction by two projects proposed by First Solar Inc--the Stateline and Silver State projects.  If built, the two projects would bulldoze over 15 square miles of public land. 

Advocates of giant solar projects claim that utility-scale solar generation is necessary to quickly cut greenhouse gas emissions.  However, such facilities are expected to destroy nearly 334 square miles of pristine desert in America's southwestern public lands over the next 20 years, according to the Department of Interior, and this will only feed a fraction of our energy needs.  The Los Angeles Times took a position in the debate by calling for a smarter solar policy that encourages projects on already-disturbed and private lands.  Solar Done Right issued a report calling for more incentives for rooftop solar and, if necessary, projects on already-disturbed land.   Germany added 3,000 MW of distributed generation in 2009 alone.

If we are serious about increasing renewable energy generation the right way, we will establish feed-in-tariffs and tax incentives that benefit individual citizens and small businesses that install rooftop solar systems instead of continuing to worship corporate giants that are more interested in profit than protecting the environment. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sierra Club Lawsuit Tossed Out by Court; Calico Site in Jeopardy

The California Supreme Court this month denied a petition by the Sierra Club that challenged the California Energy Commission's (CEC) inadequate environmental review for the Calico Solar power project.  A similar legal challenge by California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) was also thrown out by the court.  The Calico Solar power project was initially proposed by Tessera Solar LLC and approved by the CEC and Department of Interior last year.  Tessera Solar has since sold the project rights to K Road Power (aka K Road Solar), which is proposing to modify the 7.2 square mile project to use more photovoltaic panels to supplement Tessera Solar's disastrous SunCatchers.

One of many desert tortoises inhabiting the pristine desert where K Road Power plans to build a massive solar facility.  Photo courtesy of Basin and Range Watch.
The court decision is unwelcome news for concerned citizens who point to the Calico site's rich biodiversity and abundant desert tortoise population as a poor choice for solar development.  Many citizens and organizations also expressed concerns echoed in the Sierra Club's legal challenge that the CEC and Department of Interior improperly assessed the environmental impacts of the solar project.  The environmental review did not adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the Calico project, and fails to identify risks associated with desert tortoise translocation and neglects to identify appropriate sites to receive translocated tortoises. 

In addition to at least two dozen desert tortoises that would be displaced or killed if the project is built, the site also hosts a rare batch of white-margined beardtongue, burrowing owls, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and foraging habitat for bighorn sheep that inhabit the nearby Cady Mountains.  Desert biologists have also noted that the estimate for desert tortoises on the Calico site could be misleading.  In the case of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert, which is currently under construction,  the Department of Interior only expected to displace or kill 34 tortoises.  They now estimate that the project will kill or displace 140 tortoises.
White-margined beardtongue, found on the Calico site and only a few other places in America's southwestern deserts.
The California court decision paves the way for K Road Power to continue its plans to modify and build the project, pending a new approval process by the California Energy Commission and presumably the Department of Interior.  The CEC has already requested data from K Road Power so that it can re-evaluate the project's impacts.

What's Next for Calico?
Will the Sierra Club move on to Federal courts and challenge the Department of Interior's approval of the poorly-sited Calico Solar project?  Will Governor Jerry Brown's more sensible renewable energy policy lead the CEC to reconsider its approval?  The CEC boasted about the court's decision to toss out the legal challenge, but in the same month the Los Angeles Times questioned the sensibility of building solar facilities on pristine desert instead of already-disturbed land, and a group known as Solar Done Right issued a report blasting the White House's plans to give up hundreds of square miles of public land for solar development while ignoring the promise of distributed generation and availability of already-disturbed land.

If bulldozers are tearing up ancient desert shrubs and burying tortoises in their burrows this fall, as K Road Power hopes, it will ultimately be a decision America regrets.  The sun is baking empty rooftops and fallow agricultural land all across the West.  We have an opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions and save open space.  Keep Calico pristine.

You can stay informed with California's re-evaluation of K Road Power's proposal on the CEC's website for the project.  The CEC is hosting a public meeting and visit to the site on 20 April.

A tortoise emerging from it's burrow (foreground) on the proposed site for the Calico Solar power project.  Photo courtesy of Basin and Range Watch.



The proposed Calico Solar project would pave over pristine desert up to the Cady Mountains, shown in the distant background.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Petition to Stop Ivanpah

BrightSource Energy LLC's plans to bulldoze 5.6 square miles of pristine desert habitat on public land is expected to displace or kill 140 desert tortoises.  The number of tortoises thriving on this land is a testament to the habitat quality and biodiversity on the site, but the environmental costs were ignored by the Department of Interior, headed by Secretary Ken Salazar, during a faulty approval process for the BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System.

Sign the petition now to tell Secretary Salazar to hault construction at Ivanpah and keep solar panels on rooftops, and off of tortoise habitat!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Solar Energy On the Wrong Path

Thousand of rooftops in our cities bake under the California sun, and hundreds of thousands of acres of already-disturbed land identified by EPA's RE-powering America's Land program sit idle -- perfect places for solar panels.  BrightSource Energy LLC, which portrays itself as an innovative solar energy company, ignored these options and decided to begin bulldozing 5.6 square miles of pristine desert habitat on public land (using 1.4 billion dollars of taxpayer-backed financing).

A video recently released on You Tube (below) of crews clearing old growth desert for BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert reveals a different kind of company.  This is a business that is not worthy of the "green" reputation bestowed upon it by those who only believe in protecting nature when she is not standing in the way of profit.



Desert shrubs and Yuccas that took hundreds of years to grow--symbolic of nature's persevearance and adaptability--are mowed down in seconds, as Chris Clarke notes over at Coyote Crossing.

This is a continuation of the same energy standard we have been following for decades and not much different than building a hydropower dam on the Colorado River or removing a mountaintop in West Virginia to mine coal -- we are unnecessaraily destroying ecosystems and pushing species closer to extinction.  Wall Street is using the real threat of climate change to create a false dilemma -- they say we must sacrifice public land to build massive solar facilities.  As Solar Done Right has argued, and as Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune has acknowledged, we must put renewable energy on a responsible path.  Otherwise we become accessories to an unchecked, profit-driven campaign to blanket our dwindling wild lands with mirrors and towers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Citizen Coalition Criticizes Obama Energy Proposal

A coalition of energy experts, biologists and concerned citizens known as Solar Done Right issued a report Monday questioning why Washington wants to sacrifice hundreds of square miles of public land and billions of taxpayer dollars to solar energy companies instead of encouraging rooftop solar.   The report is available on Solar Done Right's website

Solar Done Right's report is a response to the policy proposals contained in the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft PEIS).  The Draft PEIS was issued jointly by the Departments of Interior and Energy last year, and seeks to establish a policy of offering over 22 million acres of mostly pristine desert habitat for development to solar energy companiesThe Draft PEIS fails to consider alternatives to sacrificing public land,  such as implementing policies that encourage distributed generation (aka rooftop solar).   This blog previously commented on the inadequacies of the Draft PEIS

Solar Done Right points out many of the flaws of the Draft PEIS in its report, and explains why distributed generation (rooftop solar) would be the right path--economically and environmentally sustainable.

According to Solar Done Right's report:
The need to move to a renewable-based energy economy, and quickly, is urgent. Global warming threatens to unwind the relatively stable climate regime that has supported the evolution of present human and ecological systems.

But the Draft PEIS is fundamentally flawed. The current document follows an exploitive, outmoded approach, mired in 19th Century attitudes toward public land, coupled with financially and environmentally-subsidized, outmoded technology that will fail to achieve a responsible energy future.
Even the Sierra Club called for a more sensible renewable energy policy.  The Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, called for solar energy development on already-disturbed land and on rooftops and parking lots, according to his op-ed in the Atlantic Monthly According to Mr. Brune:
We must build large-scale energy projects in the places where they will cause the least harm -- abandoned agricultural lands, defunct mines and other areas that have already been developed. 
Bottom line: Solar technology is flexible and innovative.  You can place solar panels anywhere.  Why should we give up open space and biodiversity for a technology that offers so much promise?

You can still comment on the Draft Programmatic EIS up until 16 April.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Green Jobs

The massive solar power projects that threaten to destroy public land throughout America's southwestern deserts are coated in economic promise.  The Obama administration included loan guarantees and grants as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in order boost renewable energy generation, and Congress extended the Treasury Grant Program that funnels taxpayers' money to renewable energy companies.   In order to justify this money, the projects are promoted by politicians as "green" job creation engines, but the impact of these jobs is inflated and misleading. 

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger touted the need for green jobs in his recent opinion piece in the Atlantic Monthly, and large-scale solar projects on public land feature prominently in the President's energy blueprint.   The energy companies promise to turn around the recession if they are given unfettered access to public land and money.  Tessera Solar LLC CEO Robert Lukefahr complained in December that a court injunction halting the Imperial Valley solar project would prevent his company from bringing much needed jobs to an impoverished area of California.

So what are taxpayers getting for their money?  According to a recent Las Vegas Sun article, Sempra Energy's Copper Mountain Solar One facility received 42 million dollars in tax credits, but only maintains 5 permanent jobs on the site.  Temporary construction jobs probably account for most of the "green" jobs that solar energy facilities generate, but are these really "green"?  Bulldozing desert tortoise habitat for a solar energy facility is not greener than bulldozing sage-grouse habitat for natural gas wells, or logging forests to put up windmills.  Other "green" jobs generated by large solar facilities include removing endangered species before their homes are crushed by construction crews.   It's better than killing them, and kicking critters out of their homes is hard work.  But it's not "green."  

Tell that to BrightSource Energy CEO John Woolard who was elated by the Department of Energy's decision to finance 1.4 billion dollars of the company's destructive Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave Desert.   He said: "We’re truly humbled by the opportunity to help build our nation’s green energy economy by creating good jobs for local communities."

What is that money getting the taxpayer? Lots of temporary construction jobs, but probably not many permanent jobs.  And we lose out on over 5 square miles of public land.  The BLM recently announced that the project could displace or kill up to 140 endangered desert tortoises.  BrightSource is building a fence around perfectly good desert habitat, hiring biologists to take tortoises living inside the fence and throwing them onto the other side.   If this is our measure of "green" jobs,  BP should be applauded for creating thousands of green jobs last summer when it hired locals around the Gulf of Mexico to scrub oil off of birds and sea turtles. 

Washington is missing an opportunity.  Instead of pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into a handful of companies' coffers, we should be providing incentives for homeowners and small businesses that install rooftop solar panels in our communities, not in the middle of the desert.  Putting money back in the taxpayer's pocket, cutting electric bills, and increasing property value--that's a truly sustainable green economy.

Destruction of the Ivanpah Valley

Basin and Range Watch posted new photos of the construction of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Taxpayers' money is being used to provide 1.4 billion dollars in financing to the project, and American citizens are giving up over 5 square miles of public land to the company.  According to the draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the Department of Interior expects the solar energy industry to bulldoze over 300 square miles of desert habitat -- multiply the destruction in the photos below by 150 if you want to imagine what our energy policy will do to our public land.

The destruction in this aerial photo represents only about a third of the total project.  Photo from Basin and Range Watch.

Bulldozers scraped away once pristine desert habitat.  The project is estimated to displace or kill nearly 140 endangered desert tortoises, according to the BLM.  Photo from Basin and Range Watch.
Check out the Basin and Range Watch site for more photos and descriptions.

The Ivanpah site hosted ancient creosote shrub rings, a healthy desert tortoise population, rare desert wildflowers, and foraging habitat for Golden Eagles and bighorn sheep.  This should not be the future of our "green" economy.