Monday, April 25, 2016

Wind Project To Be Crammed In Amidst Wilderness and Wildlife

Sweden-based company Eolus is reviving plans to build the Crescent Peak Wind project in southern Nevada on wildlands prized for wildlife and primitive recreation.  Basin & Range Watch learned that the company filed initial paperwork with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to begin environmental review of the project.
This photo was taken along the northeastern boundary of the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area. The Crescent Peak area is in the distance on the right, and would be covered in giant wind turbines if Eolus gets its way.
Solitude or Industrial Zone?
Eolus is targeting a patchwork of unprotected lands in the Piute Valley that the BLM acknowledges are ideal for primitive recreation, and surrounded by conservation and wilderness designations. The Piute Valley offers a “range of outdoor recreation activities associated with a wide-open landscape with limited developments,” according to the BLM's own draft resource management plan.

The Piute Valley is roughly an hour drive south from the Las Vegas metropolitan area, offering an outdoor getaway to a population increasingly hemmed in by sprawl and industry. Wildlands to the northeast of Las Vegas are being bulldozed for utility-scale solar and industrial parks (Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, Moapa Solar project, Apex Industrial Park), suffering the same fate as the Ivanpah Valley to the southwest of the city.

If the project is built, however, dozens of giant wind turbines towering hundreds of feet in the air would span across the ridgelines, with red hazard lights flashing at night. The industrial project would tarnish the wilderness qualities of the neighboring Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, South McCullough Wilderness, Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument.

Looking north along the Walking Box Ranch Road, a gateway to the Castle Mountains National Monument. Crescent Peak is in the distance on the left, forming the gentle northern edge of the New York Mountain range that spans the California and Nevada border.
Golden Eagle Hot Spot
The western Piute Valley and McCullough Mountain area also appears to host a high density of golden eagle nests. A Nevada Department of Wildlife survey found nearly 40 golden eagle nests within and near the proposed footprint of the wind project. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan identified several golden eagle nests on the California side of the border in the New York Mountains and Castle Mountains (Appendix R2.7 of the Draft DRECP).

The Eolus project would have to conduct extensive golden eagle surveys to determine an estimated impact on the species, but some project developers decide to move forward with projects despite high risks to golden eagles and other avian species.

Stay tuned for updates on this project proposal and its estimated impacts on wildlands and wildlife.

Above: An approximate outline of the proposed Crescent Peak wind project in red, imposed on a Google Earth image of southern Nevada and eastern California. Below: A map submitted in 2012 by the project's first proponent - Oak Creek Energy Systems.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Interior Approval Threatens Mojave Wildlife

Interior this month signed the Record of Decision formally approving the Soda Mountain Solar project, despite landscape-level planning that identified this area as a significant opportunity to connect otherwise isolated bighorn sheep populations.  If Bechtel finds a utility company willing to purchase power from the 287 MW project, it will bulldoze nearly 4 square miles of intact desert next to the Mojave National Preserve to install photovoltaic panels that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands (more than 400 MW of rooftop solar capacity was installed in the first three months of 2015, alone).

These bighorn sheep are part of a large herd that inhabit the Soda Mountains. Their water source and foraging habitat would be jeopardized by the Soda Mountain Solar project if it is built, and an opportunity to connect this herd with the historical range of the bighorn sheep may be threatened by construction of the project.
Interior delayed issuing the record of decision for almost a year after it published a final environmental assessment, underscoring the difficulty Interior has faced trying to say yes to this unnecessary and controversial project. The area that would be bulldozed currently provides foraging habitat for bighorn sheep, and the water pumped by the project could threaten natural springs that wildlife - including the endangered Mojave Tui Chub - depend upon.  According to biological surveys, the site is inhabited by burrowing owls, kit fox, badgers, kangaroo rats, lesser nighthawk, Bewick' wren, Say's phoebe, and desert tortoises.  The area also provides forage for Townsend's big-eared, canyon, hoary, and Mexican free-tailed bats.

A detailed list of wildlife species observed or detected on the desert habitat targeted by Bechtel is available below.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which owns the nearest transmission lines to the Soda Mountain site, has already said it would not purchase power from the project because of its environmental impact.  However, Bechtel could still request permission to use the transmission lines to deliver power to another buyer.