Interior Approves More Desert Destruction; Ignores Sustainable Alternatives

The Department of Interior yesterday announced final approval for three poorly sited renewable energy projects in America's southwestern deserts that will destroy and industrialize nearly 40 square miles of public lands -- an area larger than the island of Manhattan, and almost as much land area as the City of San Francisco.  None of this destruction is necessary since renewable energy can be more efficiently and more sustainably located in our cities or on already-disturbed lands.

As KCET reported, California has installed 1,500 megawatts of rooftop solar -- an energy output nearly equivalent to three Reid Gardner coal plants.  Elsewhere, solar companies are building hundreds of megawatts of solar on already-disturbed lands, such as agricultural fields.  Renewable energy offers us the alternative to preserve wildlands, but the Department of Interior ignored this alternative when it approved the following three projects: 

Searchlight Wind
The Searchlight Wind project will be built by Duke Energy on nearly 29 square miles of intact desert habitat in southern Nevada. Duke Energy will industrialize this peaceful corner of the desert with 87 wind turbines (each standing taller than the Statue of Liberty) 35 miles of new gravel roads, and 16 miles of new transmission and collector lines, according to the BLM assessment. Construction will require over 9,000 trips by diesel trucks, and tons of cement and steel.   The project is expected to displace or kill up to 50 desert tortoises, according to the environmental impact statement, and almost certainly will kill birds and bats. 

McCoy Solar
The McCoy Solar project was approved even though the seven square mile project infringes on desert wildlands with wilderness characteristics. The project will also destroy acres of microphyll woodland -- this habitat type "support[s] 85 percent of all bird nests built in the Colorado Desert, despite accounting for only 0.5 percent of the desert land base (McCreedy 2011)." NextEra Energy will use photovoltaic solar panels on the site -- the same technology that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already-disturbed lands.  The project will destroy special status plants, including desert unicorn plant, Utah vine milkweed, Abram's spurge, and Las Animas colubrina.  New transmission lines will be built on habitat currently hosting Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizard. 

Desert Harvest Solar
The Desert Harvest Solar project will destroy over 1.8 square miles of public lands south of Joshua Tree National Park. The desert habitat that will be bulldozed for the project is currently home to burrowing owls, kit fox, long-nosed leopard lizard, sidewinders, lesser nighthawks, crucifixion thorn, coyotes, and potentially American badger.

With Spirit Mountain the distance, the desert in the foreground would be carved up with new roads for the Searchlight Wind project in Nevada, displacing or killing up to 50 desert tortoises, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates.


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