|In this photo by Basin and Range Watch, a cluster of Mojave yuccas grow in the Ivanpah Valley where First Solar is proposing to build its massive Silver State South solar power project.|
The Department of Interior later recognized that the Ivanpah Valley serves as an important desert tortoise connectivity corridor when it circulated a draft of its supplement to the solar programmatic environmental impact statement. Under one of the policy options being considered, the Department of Interior would discourage all solar energy projects in areas identified as desert tortoise connectivity corridors. If a company insists on proposing a project in such a corridor, they could not disturb tortoise habitat hosting more than 2 tortoises per square mile, and must maintain habitat connectivity at least 3 miles wide.
|In this screen capture, the proposed desert tortoise connectivity areas are bordered in red and shaded in blue. The entire Ivanpah Valley is considered a desert tortoise connectivity corridor, according to this map from the Department of Interior.|
Both First Solar projects would violate the best conservation practices being proposed by the Department of Interior in its policy draft:
Three mile wide connectivity corridor: The Silver State South project would be built at one of the narrowest points of the Ivanpah Valley, with less than 3 miles of suitable desert tortoise habitat. Building this solar power project almost certainly would limit the corridor even further, probably to much less than a mile. The Stateline project would also impede the wildlife corridor. The BrightSource project already constrained north/south connectivity on the west side of the Ivanpah Valley, so the negative impacts of the Stateline solar project would be even more profound.
Additional Groups Recognize Value of Ivanpah, but silent on First Solar Projects
Other environmental groups weighed in on Ivanpah in January, agreeing that the area is important for wildlife and conservation, although they have stopped short of opposing the First Solar projects that are still pending. The Sierra Club encouraged the Department of Interior to add the Ivanpah Valley to a list of "exclusion areas" that would be off limits to future solar project applications, according to public comment guidelines published on its website in January. The comments did not mention the pending First Solar projects
Other environmental groups signed a joint letter with solar and electric utility companies (posted on the Wilderness Society's website) where the parties -- including First Solar, BrightSource Energy, NRDC, and Southern California Edison--agreed that there should be no future solar project proposals in the Ivanpah Valley. For obvious reasons, the parties do not stipulate in the letter what should happen to the pending First Solar applications, and other language in the letter favors continuation of applications already in process.
The Road AheadFirst Solar should take notice that it chose poorly when it proposed the Stateline and Silver State projects. Attempting to reconfigure the project boundaries or promise "mitigation"-- conserving tortoise habitat elsewhere as compensation -- simply cannot replace or avoid the fragile connectivity corridor that the Ivanpah Valley offers for the threatened desert tortoise. Furthermore, the abundance of tortoises found in the Ivanpah Valley is a testament to the biodiversity found on this healthy desert habitat. Several species of rare desert plants, raptors, and bighorn sheep -- a richness of rare species assembled in one place that is not found in too many other places in our beleaguered deserts.