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First Solar Project Displaces Over 160 Desert Tortoises

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First Solar has displaced at least 161 adult and juvenile desert tortoises to make way for its Silver State South Solar project in Nevada, as of August 2015, according to documents provided by the Department of Interior.  Initial information indicates several tortoises relocated from the project site have already died, possibly as a result of being forced into unfamiliar ranges.  First Solar is clearing over 3.7 square miles of intact desert habitat for the project after the company ignored requests to consider less destructive locations.  Underscoring its interest in profit over the environment, the company has even funded attacks on rooftop solar - a more sustainable alternative to meeting our renewable energy needs that First Solar sees as a threat to its bulldozer-led approach.

Translocation Results Uneven

Although the 161 desert tortoises found on the Silver State South project site were moved to the surrounding desert before bulldozers leveled the area for solar panels, at least …

"Green" Extractivism and the Ivanpah Valley

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The Ivanpah Valley is now emblematic of the market's power not only to displace nature for the sake of materialism at an impressive scale, but also to limit the environmental movement's willingness to pursue sustainability.  First Solar continues to bulldoze intact habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to make way for over 6 square miles of solar panels at its Stateline and Silver State South projects.  The impact of the construction has been sobering, with desert tortoises, kit fox, LeConte's thrasher, ancient yucca, and countless other wildlife displaced or destroyed for a clean technology that can easily be installed on rooftops, over parking lots, and on already-disturbed lands. 

These First Solar projects join two other solar projects - including the BrightSource Ivanpah Solar project - and have turned a mostly wild landscape into one that is starkly dominated by human development.  Ivanpah proves that elements of our clean energy transition are dangerously compatible with a …

Tortoise Toll Mounts at Nevada Solar Project

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First Solar's Silver State South project has displaced over 152 desert tortoises, according to data obtained by Basin and Range Watch, and this toll is expected to rise since construction crews have not yet finished bulldozing the threatened animal's habitat.  The Silver State South solar project is being built just east of Primm, Nevada on 3.7 square miles of intact Mojave Desert habitat that biologists have determined to be a key corridor for the desert tortoise - facilitating genetic flow for the species that is important for its survival in the face of many anthropogenic threats, including climate change.

Of the 152 tortoises displaced, 63 are adult and 89 are juvenile, indicating that First Solar chose a bad location for its solar project.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, the project is expected to displace as many as 115 adult desert tortoises, and the Department of Interior will likely have to halt construction and re-evaluate impacts…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

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The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Interior released a report this month confirming that a senior Obama administration official with cozy ties to the renewable energy industry pressured subordinates to ignore environmental concerns in favor of providing rubber-stamp approval to power plants.  The IG report focuses on the actions of Steve Black - who retired from Interior in 2013 and served as senior counselor to former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar  - because he dated a lobbyist for renewable energy company NextEra and also put his name forward to serve as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), all while continuing to manage the approval of renewable energy projects on public lands.  At the very least, Mr. Black's actions constitute the appearance of impropriety that undermines our ability to trust Interior leadership to manage public lands based on sound science rather than special interests.

As senior counselor to the Secretary of Interior, Black ha…

First Solar Begins Ecosystem Destruction in Ivanpah

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First Solar has begun construction on the 2.6 square mile Stateline Solar project - one of the company's two additional solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley - after a judge turned down a request for an injunction by the Defenders of Wildlife.   First Solar is also expected to begin bulldozing desert habitat for the Silver State South project, which will destroy over 3.7 square miles of tortoise habitat on the Nevada side of the Ivanpah Valley.  Both projects will destroy some of the best quality desert tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert and, more insidiously, likely sever a habitat corridor linking separate populations of the tortoise.
Tortoises Lose Key Habitat

According to construction monitoring reports,  First Solar has already translocated at least 16 tortoises - 8 adults and 8 juveniles - from the first phase of construction, which may be an area of approximately 500-700 acres (the final environmental impact statement indicated "zone 1" of construction would be …

Federal District Court to Hear Case on Ivanpah Valley on Monday

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Defenders of Wildlife on Monday will argue before the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California that First Solar should not be allowed to begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley this spring because of the irreparable harm the projects would incur on critical desert tortoise habitat.  The Department of Interior permitted the projects even though biologists - including at the Fish and Wildlife Service - have argued that no additional large-scale development should take place in the Ivanpah Valley because it could impair a critical habitat linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.

The Department of Interior, California Energy Commission, and First Solar have filed notices in opposition to Defenders of Wildlife, claiming that the projects are critical components of Federal and State renewable energy programs, but failing to justify why these two projects must be built on such important wildlife habitat.  First Solar …

Defenders of Wildlife Steps in to Protect Critical Tortoise Habitat

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Defenders of Wildlife filed a legal challenge this week against the Department of Interior's decision to permit two large solar projects along the California-Nevada border because each would significantly impair a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  The challenge calls out the Department of Interior's own doublespeak with respect to the need for "responsible development of renewable energy on our public lands."  The solar projects in question - First Solar's Stateline and Silver State South - would destroy a total of over 6.3 square miles of habitat in the Ivanpah Valley; this area not only provides genetic connectivity across the tortoise's range, but research also shows the valley will "retain the precipitation and temperature levels necessary to sustain the species" through anticipated impacts of climate change.  First Solar refused to consider relocating the projects to already-disturbed lands, and the Department of Interior decided to pe…

Can Ivanpah Be Saved?

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The Department of Interior issued a Record of Decision this week approving two more massive solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  With this approval, First Solar could begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects as soon as this spring, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the projects could destroy a key habitat linkage for the imperiled desert tortoise.  Conservation groups have asked Interior and First Solar to consider alternative locations for the project, and Defenders of Wildlife in November warned that it may challenge Interior's review of the projects under the Endangered Species Act.

There is no good reason why these projects must be built in Ivanpah, but plenty of reasons why they should be built elsewhere.  First Solar picked sites close to transmission lines and secured a power purchase agreement with utility companies without consideration of how these choices might impact our desert wildlands and wildlife,…

Conservation Groups Warn Against Approval of Ivanpah Projects

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Defenders of Wildlife this month warned the Department of Interior that its pending approval of two large-scale solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley would destroy irreplaceable desert habitat and degrade an important wildlife linkage, despite smarter alternatives.  In a separate letter, the Nature Conservancy noted that Interior's approval of the projects would ignore science-based guidance on how to manage public lands and minimize impacts of energy projects.

The two solar projects - First Solar's Silver State South and Sateline projects - would be built on the California-Nevada border on a narrow corridor of habitat that connects different populations of the beleaguered desert tortoise.  A loss or degradation of this habitat linkage would make it more difficult for the desert tortoise to recover from the downward spiral it has experienced over the last half century, and erode its resilience as it faces a host of human threats, including climate change.  Conservationists argu…

Interior Rolling the Dice on Future of the Desert Tortoise

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) biological opinion provides a seemingly conflicted and reluctant expression of support for the Silver State South solar project on the basis of mitigation measures that it admits may not offset the damage done by the project to the viability of a key habitat linkage for the desert tortoise.  The biological opinion is FWS' contribution to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) environmental review of the Silver State South project, and evaluates how the project will impact the desert tortoise.   Perhaps to speed approval of the project, the opinion glosses over a significant potential consequence of the project - local extirpation of the desert tortoise population in the Ivanpah Valley.


The Silver State South solar project would be built at the pinch point of the hour-glass shaped Ivanpah Valley, and potentially isolate two populations of the desert tortoise; both the BLM and FWS acknowledge that "current research does not i…

Silver State South Solar Nears Approval; Problems Loom

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Tbe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in September released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Silver State South solar project, which would destroy approximately 3.7 square miles of intact desert habitat. Although the direct impact on wildlife may not compare to BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar project, the Silver State South project almost certainly will have significant long-term effects on the ability of the desert tortoise to maintain habitat connectivity.



The BLM’s preferred alternative supports the solar project, and secondarily designates an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) to protect the desert tortoise habitat that First Solar does not want to destroy.  The ACEC is a welcomed sweetener, but still does not override the bitterness that arises from the fact that destruction of habitat for the solar project is completely unnecessary since the solar panels would be just as happy on already-disturbed lands somewhere else in the state.  Tortoises,…

First Solar Supports Utility Company War on Rooftop Solar

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First Solar, the company destroying several square miles of desert habitat to build solar facilities on pristine desert wildlands,  sided with utilities companies seeking to limit the expansion of rooftop solar in a regulatory filing this month.  First Solar's move is not surprising because the panels it manufactures and uses at its large solar facilities are not very efficient, and typically are not used in rooftop solar installations.  The company depends on monopolistic utility companies to buy energy from its projects, funds anti-environment politicians, and has insisted on building a large project that biologists have warned will degrade habitat connectivity for the threatened desert tortoise.

 But First Solar's move is bold - the company complains that rooftop solar installations place an unfair burden on other ratepayers, ignoring the fact that First Solar executives' pay checks are subsidized by taxpayers; the company's large projects are supported by Federal l…