Tuesday, August 23, 2016

County Rejects Environmental Certification of Soda Mountain Solar

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject the environmental analysis of the Soda Mountain Solar project, placing a significant hurdle in the path of a project that would have threatened important wildlife habitat next to the Mojave National Preserve.  Supervisors Lovingood, Gonzales, and Rutherford expressed concern during a lengthy meeting today that the environmental analysis was inadequate and did not address the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's input regarding impacts on desert bighorn sheep.  During closing comments, Supervisor Lovingood pointed out that projects of this scale would be better located on already-disturbed lands in the County, and mentioned specific sites as examples.

Desert bighorn sheep perched on the slopes of Soda Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve.  The Soda Mountain Solar project would have been built nearby, threatening opportunities to restore bighorn sheep habitat connectivity across Interstate-15 and jeopardizing groundwater that may feed critical natural springs.
Regenerate Power,  the company that now owns the Soda Mountain Solar proposal after corporate behemoth Bechtel pulled out of the project, proposed to build the project along Interstate-15 and next to the Mojave National Preserve.  However, the location chosen for the project overlaps with an area being studied by biologists as an opportunity to restore connectivity for desert bighorn sheep.  The Interstate has acted as a genetic barrier to the bighorn sheep since it was constructed, and has begun to isolate sheep populations to the north and south.  Biologists are looking at ways that a wildlife overpass, artificial water sources, and modified culverts under the highway could re-connect sheep populations across the highway.  But the solar project could threaten these opportunities.

During the Supervisor meeting today, the public also expressed concern that the project's groundwater use would impact wildlife.  The Soda Mountain Solar project would require as much as 156.4 million gallons of groundwater during the 30 month construction period.  Once built, the project would require as much as 10.7 million gallons of water each year for panel washing and dust suppression during regular operation and maintenance, according to the final environmental impact statement.  This water use may jeopardize groundwater that also supplies natural springs used by a multitude of desert wildlife, including a rare desert fish and bighorn sheep.

The vote was an impressive reflection of persistent public demand for a smarter, more sustainable deployment of renewable energy.  The vote was also a rejection of the fast-track environmental review process that often accepts unnecessary risks to wildlife and wildlands, catering to industry while ignoring more efficient alternatives, such as solar on already-disturbed lands, on rooftops, and over parking lots.

Nearly 3 square miles of this intact desert habitat may now be spared after the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors rejected the environmental certification of the Soda Mountain Solar project.  Photo by Michael E. Gordon.


1 comment:

  1. This is good news. I e-mailed all five supervisors today and showed my support for this decision. It only took a few minutes. I think that it's important that we reach out to them and let them know how we feel.

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