As a Sierra Club member, I am frustrated that my organization remains irresolute regarding the future of the Ivanpah Valley. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has recognized the ecological significance of Ivanpah, and earlier this year encouraged members nationwide to submit comments on the Department of Interior's Solar Programmatic EIS supplement that mentioned Ivanpah as an area not suitable for additional solar projects. Yet the Club now appears to be working to find a way to permit more large solar projects in this treasured place.
On 21 March, the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter met with First Solar, probably giving their blessing to the Silver State South solar project, and a "conservation" plan for what is left of Ivanpah that is likely to be heavily influenced by First Solar's corporate lawyers and not biologists. If built, Silver State South would obstruct one of the narrowest parts of the Ivanpah Valley wildlife corridor. The Sierra Club may think it is trying to "mitigate" the impacts of Silver State South, which is the much larger second phase to First Solar's Silver State North project, but any further industrial development in this narrow strip of desert habitat will have significant harmful effects, according to biologists.
|This Google Earth image shows the approximate project right-of-ways for the solar projects proposed or under construction in the Ivanpah Valley|
proposal put on the table by Basin and Range Watch. The Sierra Club's leadership, meanwhile, has not weighed in with a specific position on First Solar's projects (Silver State South or Stateline). After facilitating First Solar's massive projects near Joshua Tree National Park and in California's Carrizo Plain, one would think that Sierra Club leadership has the leverage to dissuade First Solar from pursuing projects in Ivanpah.
We have to be resolute in protecting our most ecologically sensitive places from any energy development. The Ivanpah Valley is one of those places. Working with the solar industry to keep projects away from such treasures is one thing, but now that First Solar has proposed destroying Ivanpah, any agreement with First Solar will give them the "green" stamp of approval they need to sail through BLM review. There is no more margin of error afforded to us in Ivanpah.
At the very least we should be vocal and consistent in our opposition to such poorly sited projects. Telling members nationwide to urge Interior to keep Ivanpah off limits to industrial energy development, and then turning around to help First Solar earn a "green" stamp of approval for bulldozing that same land is misleading. The Sierra Club has taken positive steps by encouraging distributed generation, and urging mandatory guidelines for the wind energy industry, but we are missing an opportunity for leadership in Ivanpah, since each of the projects proposed there will set a new precedent for access to some of our most ecologically sensitive desert wildlands. If we are not willing to protect Ivanpah, then we have lost sight of our conservation ethic, and I am left wondering at what point in time the renewable energy industry began to redefine our values.