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Showing posts with the label Calico Solar

In Response to the Atlantic Monthly

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The Atlantic Monthly published an article today lamenting that "fledgling" solar energy companies face opposition from environmentalists in the quest to pave over the Mojave Desert with massive solar facilities and transmission lines.  The article ridicules our concern over endangered species, and demands an evolution in environmentalism so that we focus on human needs, and abandon what it describes as an outdated focus on conservation of nature far from humans.

The article sadly supports an old paradigm in energy generation, where companies are given unfettered access to public lands and we continue to pay inflated rates for electricity.  It ignores the real potential to cut greenhouse gasses by building distributed generation ("rooftop solar") or building larger facilities on already-disturbed land.  The EPA already identified ample disturbed land for renewable energy projects as part of its RE-powering America's Land program, and Germany is generating …

Calico and Ridgecrest Solar Projects Haunt Pristine Desert

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Two different solar companies--Solar Millennium LLC and K Road Power--have officially revived proposals to build solar power projects on public land in the Mojave Desert.  Both projects have been heavily criticized by biologists and taxpayers (and some biologists that pay taxes) as a waste of money and public land.

Calico Solar Project  K Road Power (and its subsidiary K Road Solar) filed a petition with the California Energy Commission (CEC) on 22 March to modify the original Calico Solar power project, that was approved by the CEC last year.  The company that initially proposed and won approval for the Calico Solar power project--Tessera Solar LLC--could not afford to build the project, and sold the rights to public land to K Road Power.   That company is now proposing slight changes to the original proposal, calling for a mix of photovoltaic panels and the "Suncatcher" design.  Because K Road Solar is changing the original design, they should have to submit to a new environ…

Tessera Solar Trading Public Land and Money

Tessera Solar LLC recently sold its rights to build the Imperial Valley Solar project on over 10 square miles of pristine desert to AES Solar.   Tessera Solar received approval by the Federal government last year to build the solar facility on the vast tract of public land that also contains threatened species and hundreds of sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe, but Tessera did not have the money to build the project.  The Quechan tribe filed a lawsuit against the Federal government for approving the project without understanding the cultural resources that would be destroyed, and a judge ruled in December that the government likely failed to properly consult with the tribe, ordering a halt to any construction plans.  AES Solar will not be able to build on the site until the case is resolved, which could take years.

Tessera Solar also sold its Calico Solar power project rights to K Road Power in December.  In some ways, Tessera Solar's dealings resemble the mortgag…

Clock Ticking for Calico Solar Site

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K Road Power, the company that purchased the rights from Tessera Solar to build the proposed Calico Solar power project, recently told the Desert Dispatch that they could begin bulldozing the site as early as August.   The Calico site is one of several locations poorly chosen by energy companies for solar development, and is home to a high density population of desert tortoise and a pocket of rare plants found in only a few other spots in the world.  The Sierra Club filed a legal challenge against the State of California for approving the project on such ecologically important land.

K Road Power (and its subsidiary, K Road Solar), expect to change the original plan of development to use fewer of Tessera Solar's "Suncatcher" dishes, and more photovoltaic panels.  The change in technology almost certainly will necessitate a new environmental review because of differences in ground disturbance and water flow during rain storms. 

Although the Calico site layout was reduced i…

Gone fishing...

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Green vs Greed: Disentangling Environmentalism from a False Dilemma

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The Sierra Club's legal challenge against the Calico Solar power project drew some criticism, with many describing the situation as "Green vs. Green."  This is not a surprising reaction since the headlines depict the situation in simple terms: environmentalists opposing the solar energy they have been demanding.  Although the Sierra Club's petition in California's Supreme Court represents the first serious challenge from a national environmental organization against a solar energy project,  environmentalists have opposed other forms of renewable energy in the past.  The difference between renewable energy and "green" energy has become ambiguous as many corporate and political interests begin to don green masks and demand unwavering support from Americans looking for a solution to our world's environmental woes.   Distinguishing between green and greed is crucial if environmentalists want to adhere to their basic principles--advocating for a clean en…

Sierra Club Lawsuit Targets Calico Solar Power Project

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The Sierra Club filed a legal challenge against California's approval of the Calico Solar power project, arguing that the California Energy Commission (CEC) rushed the environmental review without full consideration of the impacts on wildlife and without identifying adequate mitigation measures.   The petition--filed with the California Supreme Court on 30 December--represents the first legal challenge by a national environmental organization against a destructive solar facility, setting a precedent that utility-scale solar facilities should not be exempted from the same standards environmental organizations apply to other forms of energy -- wise use of public land and preservation of fragile ecosystems.  The petition lays out arguments that could easily apply to other solar projects proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

Tessera Solar LLC recently sold its development rights for the Calico site to K Road Solar LLC,  but the Sierra Club's acti…

Calico Solar Site Sold to K Road Solar LLC

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In a surprise move, Tessera Solar LLC sold its development rights on 7.2 square miles of pristine Mojave Desert habitat to K Road Solar LLC, according to an announcement on Tuesday.  Tessera Solar LLC's parent company, Ireland-based NTR, could not afford to build a solar project on the site after receiving approval from the Department of the Interior.  Tessera and NTR announced the sale on the same day that a lawsuit was filed against the Department of the Interior for improperly approving development on the Calico solar site, among 5 other projects.

The Calico solar power project site is home to at least 22 desert tortoises, a pocket of rare desert wildflowers known as white-margined beardtongue, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, and other special status species. 

K Road Solar LLC announced its intent to increase the energy yield on the site from 663 MW to 850 MW, using more photovoltaic panels instead of Stirling Engine technology proposed by Tessera.  The increase in yield could mean …

Legal Challenge Filed Against Six Solar Projects in California's Desert

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A coalition of Native American and civic groups filed a legal challenge against the Department of the Interior for approving six massive solar power projects in California's desert, alleging that the Department did not conduct adequate environmental reviews and did not properly consult with Native American tribes.  The legal challenge points to several Federal statutes that the Department of the Interior ignored in its "fast track" approval of the solar projects.  The collective intent of the statutes is to ensure that the Federal government fully considers the consequences of its proposed actions -- in this case, providing public land and taxpayer-backed financing to several energy companies so they can build on over 40 square miles of mostly pristine desert habitat and cultural landmarks.

The lawsuit challenges the Department of the Interior's review process for the following six solar power projects:
BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating Sy…

First Solar Looking to Invest in Habitat Destruction?

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According to a Reuters article, First Solar Inc may be considering purchasing development rights for one or more of Tessera Solar LLC's projects in California's deserts.  Both of Tessera Solar's projects -- Imperial Valley and Calico--are in legal limbo and Southern California Edison withdrew its power purchase agreement from the Calico Solar power project, according to the Wall Street Journal.  If First Solar were to invest in either project, they could face significant hurdles, although the company does not seem to be shying away from projects that will severely fragment the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. 

The Calico and Imperial Solar projects may be up for grabs because Tessera Solar LLC appears unable to develop the sites with its own resources.   While Tessera Solar LLC's lack of cash and unreliable technology (Stirling "SunCatchers") are probably the biggest factors contributing to the company's doomed state, its poor choice of locations with high ec…

Solar Programmatic Draft EIS Available

The Departments of Interior and Energy released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the program to establish "solar energy zones" (SEZ) in America's southwestern deserts.  The Draft EIS evaluates the SEZs and other proposed permitting policies and guidelines that would streamline the process for government approval of solar energy projects on public land.  The Solar Energy Zones proposed for California cover approximately 530 square miles, far more land than is being considered in other states.

If done correctly, the program could steer more energy development to already-disturbed lands, and away from pristine desert habitat.  However, a cursory review of the SEZs proposed for California indicates that the Department of the Interior is still considering solar energy development in areas already confirmed to be of high ecological and cultural value, such as the Pisgah area (near the proposed Calico Solar power project) and the Imperial Valley. The Chuckwalla V…

Calico and Imperial Solar Projects in Comatose State

Dublin-based NTR has decided to hold off on the Calico and Imperial Solar power projects indefinitely.  NTR is the parent company for Tessera Solar LLC, which received approval from the California Energy Commission and Department of the Interior to build the two utility-scale solar projects--Calico and Imperial--on a combined total of over 19 square miles of public land.

According to the Irish Times, NTR did not have the financial resources available to move the projects forward, but could float stock at a later date that would bring the necessary investment to the company.  The article did not suggest a timeline for when they would reconsider moving forward with the two projects.

Citizens concerned about Tessera Solar LLC's business decisions pointed out that the Calico Solar power project would destroy prime desert tortoise habitat, killing or displacing at least 22 desert tortoises and destroying one of the few remaining populations of the rare white-margined beardtongue wildf…

Tessera Solar LLC -- Constrained by Noisy Technology?

Tessera Solar LLC -- the company that plans to build two large solar energy projects in Southern California--uses "SunCatcher" technology that has been criticized for its high levels of noise.  Never mind the fact that Tessera Solar's two proposed sites--Calico and Imperial--would kill or displace endangered species and bulldoze cultural landmarks, once the company installs tens of thousands of "SunCatchers,"  it will quickly earn itself a reputation as a noisy neighbor, as well.

Most solar energy companies do not have the same problem that Tessera does, since other forms of concentrating solar are quieter, and photovoltaic panels being the most adaptable since you can put a few on your rooftop.  Tessera Solar LLC invented a technology that is far less pleasant to build next door, which may be why the company prefers to build in the middle of our treasured public lands.

Unfortunately, wildlife too can be disturbed by loud noises.  A study of bird life around na…

CEC Reinstates Calico Project, but Hurdles Loom

The California Energy Commission (CEC) reinstated its approval of Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project, but California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and the Sierra Club are still considering litigation to stop Tessera Solar LLC from building on pristine desert habitat.  Tessera Solar LLC proposed building its Calico Solar project on over 7.2 square miles of public land that is home to a high density of desert tortoises, a rare desert wildflower, and serves as a wildlife corridor for threatened bighorn sheep.  If the project moves forward, Tessera Solar LLC would bulldoze the land and install over 26,000 giant "SunCatchers."

Tessera Solar LLC's other project in California is also facing a hurdle due to poor site selection.  The company is proposing to build the Imperial Solar project on over 9 square miles of public.  The Quechan Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior for allowing the project to be built on public land without condu…

Silent Spring: The Sacrifice of California's Deserts

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By April 2010, the solar rush in California staked claim to dozens of square miles of pristine desert, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) were on the verge of granting approvals despite concerns about how these projects would transform wilderness into an industrial zone.  The BLM and CEC were accelerating the approval process to the detriment of public involvement, in a hurry to make good on promises by State and Federal leaders that our public land would be used to generate  renewable energy was mounting.

How Policy Brought the Bulldozers

Months earlier in October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and Governor Schwarzenegger announced an agreement between the State and Federal governments to speed up the permitting of solar projects on public land in California.  Ironically, they made their announcement at a solar array on Loyola Marymount University's campus, a perfect example of distributed generation or "rooftop solar." Th…

Will the Sierra Club Step up to the Plate?

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According to Reuters, the Sierra Club claims it is still considering whether or not to challenge Tessera Solar LLC's proposed Calico Solar power project.  If built, the project would destroy 7.2 square miles of pristine desert that is home to at least 18 desert tortoises and impact surrounding habitat where dozens more tortoises have been observed.  The site is also home to rare plants, Western burrowing owls, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard, and would block a wildlife corridor for bighorn sheep.

Although the Sierra Club has been involved in the permit process for several destructive solar power projects, the Club has not yet taken legal action to block them.   The Sierra Club positions itself as a leader in renewable energy, but the group is only now considering taking legal action to steer energy companies in the right direction.  There is plenty of room for solar panels on disturbed land and rooftops -- leave our deserts for future generations.

What You Can Do:
If you are a Sierr…

Sierra Club Concerned About Rushed Calico Solar Approval Process

The Sierra Club informed the California Energy Commission's (CEC) that it should not approve the Calico Solar power project given concerns about the impact on desert tortoises on the 7 square mile site.  The Sierra Club objected to the rushed nature of the approval process that did not include adequate opportunities for public input, especially when the revised layout was decided between the CEC and Tessera Solar LLC.

According to comments submitted to the CEC and stated during a 22 October evidentiary hearing, the Sierra Club pointed to the unfinished nature of the desert tortoise translocation plan, which the CEC considered sufficient mitigation despite concerns that receptor sites for relocated tortoises would not be adequate.  Also, the fact that construction at the Calico Solar site will begin beyond late October could reduce the ability of biologists to find and relocate tortoises since the tortoises likely will be hibernating.

Another very significant point made by the Sier…

CEC Approves Calico Solar Power Project Despite Strong Objections

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) gave final approval for Tessera Solar LLC's 663 megawatt Calico Solar power project.  Dirty solar at its finest, the facility will be built on 7 square miles of pristine desert on public land, home to endangered desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard and a rare plant called white-margined beardtongue.  You can read more about the ecological significance of the site on a previous post covering the testimony of desert expert Mr. Jim Andre.

The Sierra Club issued strong testimony on the CEC's approval of the Calico Solar power project, according to transcripts from the 22 October CEC hearing, noting that the approval process violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Warren-Alquist Act.  The Sierra Club claimed that the CEC's approval would be susceptible to "judicial review and reversal."  So far, no national environmental organization has shown leadership in correcting the current renewable energy st…

Calico and Ivanpah Solar Hearings This Week

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) is expected to hear any final opposition to the Calico Solar power project on Thursday, 28 October.  Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project is proposed for over 7 square miles of public land just east of Barstow, California.  The project is eligible for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants and loan guarantees.  The CEC already issued the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision in favor of the project last month, but has to finalize the decision following the end of a 30-day public comment period. 

Separately, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is already under initial construction on 5.6 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert, but Basin and Range Watch petitioned the CEC to reconsider its approval of the project.  The CEC will hold a hearing on the petition on Tuesday, 26 October.  Basin and Range Watch noted that the CEC dismissed biological evidence regarding the genetic significance of the tortoise popu…