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Showing posts with the label Colorado Desert

First Round of Solar Projects Cast Shadow on Future of Desert Ecosystem

The first batch of solar power projects approved by the Bureau of Land Management have begun construction and are expected to fragment and industrialize America's remaining southwestern deserts, blocking wildlife movement and driving some plant and animal species closer to extinction.   Although some projects will be built on land that is already disturbed or on privately owned land, the vast majority are on public land with pristine desert habitat.  Although Federal and State requirements will require measures to lessen the impact on plants and wildlife, the long-term impact of these projects is expected to seriously degrade the ecology of the two primary bio-regions in Southern California--the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Summary of solar power projects: Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Company: BrightSource Energy LLCProject area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles)Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in CaliforniaBiological impacts:  At least 40 dese…

BLM Underestimating Impacts on Desert Tortoise?

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is estimating that only 12 desert tortoises will be affected by the construction of the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project.   However, biologists have found at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows, suggesting the number of tortoises could be much higher than the BLM report acknowledges.  The project is proposed by First Solar and would consume 6.8 square miles of public land adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park.

Why does this matter?  The BLM tortoise population estimates are considered by the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy when trying to assess the overall impact of a proposed energy project.  The lower the number, the easier it is for big energy companies to build their projects on public land, and receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants.

The BLM already underestimated the number of desert tortoises on another solar project site in California.  In the separate case,  BLM stated that they expected to remove 32 de…

Peaceful Protest Planned for Imperial Valley Solar Project

Citizens supporting the Quechan Tribe's lawsuit against the Imperial Valley Solar power project are planning to hold a peaceful and educational protest against the project today and tomorrow (14 and 15 November).  The Imperial Valley Solar project will be built by Tessera Solar LLC on public land that contains many artifacts and sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe.  The Tribe is suing the Department of the Interior for approving the project as part of the "fast track" process for solar energy projects because the Department failed to conduct a thorough review of the cultural significance of the site, and ignored Quechan Tribe requests for such a survey.  You can read more on a previous post on the Imperial project.

The Imperial Valley Solar project will consume over 10 square miles of Colorado Desert habitat near the town of Imperial, California.  The site also contains habitat for the threatened Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard and foraging habitat for the Peni…

American Indian Tribe Sues Interior Over Imperial Valley Solar Project

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The Quechan Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior for not completing analysis of the Imperial Valley Solar projects impacts on cultural resources, according to a copy of the civil action.  The 709 megawatt Imperial Valley Solar project was proposed by Tessera Solar LLC for nearly 10 square miles of public land.  The Department of the Interior approved the company's proposal for the site in October, as did the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Because the project is being constructed on public land administered by the federal government, the Department of the Interior is obligated to assess a range of impacts before issuing a final decision.  The Tribe alleges that the Department of the Interior did not conduct a thorough assessment of the solar project's impacts on cultural resources -- such as sites of historical and religious significance to the Tribe -- and artifacts that would be lost during the construction of the energy project.  The Tribe no…

Imperial Valley Solar Project Receives Final Approval

Tessera Solar LLC's Imperial Valley Solar project was granted final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC) today.  The decision marks an uncertain step forward by the State of California, and pending approval of the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal government, for one of a series of industrial-scale solar projects that will begin to degrade the health of California's desert ecosystems.   Imperial Valley itself will consume 6,140 acres of desert habitat in Southern California, which hosts threatened Flat-tailed Horned Lizard, Peninsula Bighorn Sheep foraging area Native American cultural sites of historical significance.

The CEC is approving the project with the use of a technical loophole called "Override Findings," which is the government's way of acknowledging that the project is going to impose significant damage on biological and cultural (Native American) resources, but the CEC does not care.  I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking…

Is Utility-Scale Solar Power Actually "Green" Energy?

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are set to approve several utility-scale solar power projects this year, there is one question energy companies do not want to answer.  Can we meet our energy needs with solar energy without destroying as much of the environment as mountain-top coal mining or deep sea oil drilling?  

California wants to meet 33% of the State's energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020.  According to CEC estimates, energy companies will need to seize nearly 128,000 acres of land in order to produce enough solar energy to meet the 33% requirement.  That is equivalent to approximately 200 square miles.   The majority of the projects that the BLM and CEC are considering are proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California.  Many of these proposed sites are on public land.

If we were to meet 100% of California's energy needs through utility-scale solar, it would r…

CEC Requesting Reliability Data from Tessera Solar

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) requested that Tessera Solar LLC submit detailed logs on the reliability of its "Suncatcher" solar technology,  potentially reflecting doubt about the effectiveness of the company's proposals.  According to transcripts of a 20 September CEC hearing, the CEC Staff believed that Tessera Solar should be required to submit reliability data in order to be allowed to proceed with its Imperial Valley Solar project, which is proposed for over 6,000 acres of California Desert habitat.   Tessera Solar is the same company that is also proposing to bulldoze another 4,600 acres of the Mojave Desert for the Calico Solar power project.

Both the Calico Solar and Imperial Valley Solar projects would utilize the "Suncatcher" technology.  Each Suncatcher resembles a giant satellite dish that would harness solar energy.  This technology is not as tested as parabolic technology selected for other solar projects since the Suncatchers involve mo…

Chuckwalla Valley Under Siege

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The Chuckwalla Valley in California's Colorado Desert is currently being considered for multiple solar energy projects, and has also been targeted for development in the Federal government's solar energy study zones.  The largest solar power project in California, the Blythe Solar power project proposed by Solar Millennium LLC, already received approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC), and NextEra's Genesis Solar power project received preliminary approval.   Both of these projects are proposed for public lands.

These two projects alone would fence off and bulldoze over 10,000 acres, and as you can see in the graphic below, the desert valley that currently is home to desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, bighorn sheep, lynx, burrowing owls, and kit fox will be transformed into an industrial zone if all of the remaining projects are approved.

The next project currently awaiting CEC preliminary approval is the Palen Solar power project, which would be locat…

Cultural Injustice at Blythe Solar Power Project Site

Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch commented on my previous post on the Blythe Solar power project that, in addition to the environmental damage Solar Millennium will do with its Blythe project, the company will also bulldoze over a thousand important Native American points of significance on the site.  So it is even more unfortunate that the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the site. 

You can read a continuation of this discussion on Chris' Coyote Crossing blog and the Basin and Range Watch site.

Solar Millennium Site Approved; 21 Million in Mitigation Costs

One of the largest solar sites currently under review by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--the Blythe Solar power project--received final approval today.  The site will disturb at least 7000 acres of habitat in the Colorado desert in Southern California, making it the largest site to be approved this year.  The project will destroy sand dune habitat for the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard (at least 57 were spotted on the site), bighorn sheep foraging grounds, and nesting areas for the burrowing owl.

The Blythe Solar project, which is proposed by Solar Millennium LLC and is sited on public land just west of Blythe, would produce 1000MW of energy.  However, because the Blythe Solar power project will be sited on sensitive habitat, Solar Millennium will pay at least $21,000,000 to mitigate for environmental damage.  Solar Millennium may elect to pay these funds to the Renewable Energy Action Team's (REAT) mitigation fund, which will be put toward conservation in other part…

Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems.

The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.  California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy proj…

New Report Suggests Energy Siting On Wrong Path

Thanks to our friends at Basin and Range Watch, and Coyote Crossing for highlighting a report compiled by independent experts regarding the impact of energy development on California's deserts.   The report was prepared by the Independent Science Advisors as part of California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).   The DRECP is intended to create a science-based process for reviewing and permitting renewable energy projects in the desert, and would provide a framework for implementing regionally coordinated land acquisition and mitigation to off-set the negative effects of the energy "gold rush" that threatens to turn California's deserts into an industrial zone.   The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), which this blog has previously described, is the multi-agency body that will implement the DRECP.

The full report, which you can find at the DRECP website, supports the development of renewable energy sources in order to limit greenhouse gas …

Ivanpah's Last Summer

For a great write-up by Chris Clarke (and a beautiful photo by Laura Cunningham), visit Coyote Crossing.  Mr. Clarke draws a parallel between the willingness of environmental groups to sell out pristine and threatened desert habitat for the sake of "green energy," and a poor decision by the Sierra Club decades ago when it acquiesced to the Bureau of Reclamation's inundation of Glen Canyon  by constructing a dam there.

While I have written on the California Energy Commission's imposition of mitigation fees on energy companies proposing to build on good quality desert habitat, the damage to the Mojave and Colorado Deserts will ultimately be irreparable.  Every poor decision made by energy companies, and approved by policymakers, will fragment our deserts until what remains is an industrial corridor with small pockets of desert that cannot sustain the rich diversity of life one can encounter in the desert now.  Watching a desert tortoise forage for wildflowers in the mo…

Giant Blythe Solar Power Project Approved

The Blythe Solar Power project proposed by Solar Millennium was approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), according to the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision.  The release of the Proposed Decision starts a 30-day comment period, but the decision is likely final.  The Blythe Solar power project is located in the Colorado Desert near the California town of Blythe, and is slated to provide 1,000MW of energy.  It will also involve paving 6,958 acres of desert habitat on public land.  Solar Millennium will be required to mitigate for the damage to desert tortoise habitat and preserve 6,958 of tortoise habitat elsewhere in the Colorado Desert, which could cost nearly $14,000,000.   That will be in addition to other mitigation costs for impacts on State waters, bighorn sheep, and threatened Mojave Fringe-toed lizard.

The habitat quality on the propose Blythe Solar site was deemed to be of lesser quality than other large solar power projects--such as the Ivanpah Solar Energy G…

Are Mega-Solar Farms Viable?

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I was looking at the Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Statement, and the California Energy Commission (CEC) Staff included some maps of other major energy projects proposed for the Northeastern Colorado Desert.  Some of the projects that have been proposed by have not begun CEC review are massive, and dwarf sites that have already been deemed to be harmful to desert wilderness in California.  As the mega-sites--some of which are several times larger than LAX--begin the biological surveys we are bound to learn of potential consequences for the desert that are far greater in magnitude than we have seen with other projects covered on this blog.

Some of the solar sites well into the CEC/BLM review process that have been featured on this blog are large in their own right.  Ivanpah--located in the Eastern Mojave--will have a site footprint of approximately 3,200 acres.  The Palen project--in the Colorado Desert--will have a footprint of approximately 2,970 acres.   Ridgecrest …

Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Summary

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Once again I'll stray from the namesake of the blog and address an industrial project proposed for the Colorado Desert (a subzone of the Sonoran Desert).  Since the recent gold rush of solar projects will have impacts that affect species that roam to and from the Mojave Desert and neighboring Colorado Desert, I've been tracking projects throughout southern California.

The Palen Solar Power Project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley in California would have significant impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.  Basin and Range Watch actually has an excellent summary of the most important points to take away from the EIS, and you can check it out at this link to their site.  As noted in the California Energy Commission (CEC) report, and summarized by Basin and Range Watch, the transport of sand through the valley would be impeded by the project if it is built as proposed.  This would affect approximately 1,400 acres of sand dune habitat downwind from the site.  This is significa…

Renewable Energy Action Team: Good Intentions but How Soon?

The recently published Staff Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Blythe Solar project provides some insight to the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), which is the inter-agency task force addressing expedited renewable energy permitting process and environmental mitigation.   The REAT consists of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the California Energy Commission (CEC).  If this inter-agency team can implement its policy tools quickly enough, it could have a positive effect on efforts to mitigate damage done by industrial-scale energy development in the desert, but the current proposed schedule for REAT calls this into question.

In order to achieve the goal of expedited renewable energy permitting while preserving sensitive habitat and species in California's deserts, the REAT plans to produce a Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).  According to the CEC Staff…

CEC Assesses Massive Colorado Desert Solar Project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently released it's draft Staff Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement for the Blythe Solar project, an industrial-scale site that would disturb approximately 7,030 acres of Colorado Desert.  The site is just west of Blythe and would sit in the middle of the Palo Verde Mesa next to the McCoy Mountains.   In summary,  the environmental impact statement points out that the most significant impacts of the site would be the loss of desert washes--which are important to the maintenance and sustainability of desert aquifers--and the loss of desert tortoise and Mojave Desert fringe-toed lizard habitat.

The up-side is that the plant is near populated and agricultural areas, reducing its impact on uninterrupted wilderness, and would produce up to 1000MW of renewable energy once all four proposed portions of the site are online.  However, the substation that would be required would decimate dozens of acres of dune habitat, on which 57 Mojave …

Mojave Desert Future On the Table

Many of you have probably read that the Federal Government promised $1.4 billion in loan guarantees for BrightSource Energy's proposed solar site in the Mojave Desert's Ivanpah Valley.  Even though the California Energy Commission (CEC) has not yet made a final decision regarding whether or not to approve the solar site, the political pressure is clearly in favor of BrightSource despite the biological importance of the site (read more about the importance here).   The CEC's "Presiding Member" is due to make a final decision regarding the Ivanpah proposal soon, which will be one of many decisions made by our elected officials or policymaking bodies over the next year that could make this a critical year for the Mojave.  In addition to Ivanpah, you can expect the CEC to also make a decision regarding the future of several more large energy sites, to include Ridgecrest, Abengoa, and Calico in the Mojave, and Blythe, Palen, Rice and Solar Two sites in the Colorado De…