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Showing posts with the label Imperial Solar

BLM Lifts Hold on Ivanpah Construction but Hurdles Loom

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lifted a stop-work order on BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System last week, but a legal challenge still hovers over the solar project.  BLM halted work on most of the site in April after new estimates showed that the project could kill or displace hundreds of tortoises on the 5.6 square mile site and adjacent lands.  According to government documents:
"We anticipate that construction of the [Ivanpah] project site is likely to take, in the form of mortality or injury, between 405 and 1136 desert tortoises... We anticipate that the vast majority of these will be individuals of smaller size or desert tortoise eggs that are difficult to detect during clearance surveys and construction monitoring; therefore, we are unlikely to find carcasses of these individuals."
After reissuing the biological opinion, the BLM determined that despite the project tortoise deaths, the project will not "jeopardize" the threate…

On Green Jobs

The massive solar power projects that threaten to destroy public land throughout America's southwestern deserts are coated in economic promise.  The Obama administration included loan guarantees and grants as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in order boost renewable energy generation, and Congress extended the Treasury Grant Program that funnels taxpayers' money to renewable energy companies.   In order to justify this money, the projects are promoted by politicians as "green" job creation engines, but the impact of these jobs is inflated and misleading. 

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger touted the need for green jobs in his recent opinion piece in the Atlantic Monthly, and large-scale solar projects on public land feature prominently in the President's energy blueprint.   The energy companies promise to turn around the recession if they are given unfettered access to public land and money.  Tessera Solar LLC CEO Robert Lukefahr complained …

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…

Green vs. Greed: More Citizens Take a Stand Against Dirty Solar

Over the past two weeks, a coalition of concerned citizens who live and recreate in California's deserts have filed two legal challenges, one against the US Forest Service's approval of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, and the other against the Department of the Interior's approval of the Imperial Valley solar power project.  These two new lawsuits included, there are a total of 6 challenges against State and Federal approval of destructive projects.  In sum, these legal challenges represent a maturing of America's view of renewable energy policy, recognizing that not all renewable energy is "green," especially when large utility-scale projects deprive future generations of America's natural and cultural heritage.   Distributed generation (rooftop solar) is a more cost-efficient and democratic way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California's deserts were under siege last year by energy companies seeking to build several massive solar e…

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…

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…

Judge Halts Tessera Solar Project

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns granted an injunction this week that prevents Tessera Solar LLC from moving forward with its Imperial Valley Solar project in response to a lawsuit filed by the Quechan Tribe against the Department of the Interior.  The Imperial project would have destroyed over 9 square miles of Sonoran desert habitat that also held over 400 sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe, including burial grounds.

Judge Burns--who was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2003--chided the Department of the Interior  for "gliding" over its statutory responsibility to consult with the Quechan Tribal government before approving the project, which would be built on public land and would have been awarded taxpayer-backed financing.  Judge Burns' order underscored the shallow nature of what the Department presented as evidence of "consultations."  The order summarized letters that the Department sent to the Quechan Tribe, dismissing t…

California To Begin Charging For Sun Delivery

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In Governor Schwarzenegger's weekly radio address, he complained about the length of time required to permit the Sunrise Powerlink -- a two billion dollar transmission line that is intended to deliver solar energy from California's Imperial Valley to San Diego.  What he neglected to mention is that the Sunrise Powerlink will not carry energy from "green" sources, and it will cost the ratepayer more money.   Yes, utility-scale solar energy will reduce carbon emissions overall, but America's southwestern deserts--treasured for recreation, wildlife, tranquility, and our cultural heritage--will be given away to energy companies, along with taxpayers' money, ignoring a cheaper option.

Not So "Green"
The Governor boasted about his office's progress in approving nearly 5000 MW of renewable energy.  Unfortunately, most of the utility-scale projects that his office encouraged through the California Energy Commission (CEC) permitting process will bulldo…

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…

Palen Solar Power project moves forward; Imperial Solar Threatens Cultural Heritage

The California Energy Commission (CEC) provided preliminary approval for a solar power project that will consume almost 8 square miles of mostly public land near the Palen Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and that would disturb part of the designated Chuckwalla Critical Habitat Unit for the desert tortoise.  The Palen Solar power project is being proposed by Chevron and a subsidiary it created, Solar Millennium LLC.

The CEC is requesting that Solar Millennium LLC build a reconfigured layout and not the initial proposal in order to reduce (but not eliminate) impacts to Mojave Fringe Toed Lizard habitat.  However, the project would also disrupt desert tortoise linkages since it would block multiple washes that allow them to travel under Interstate 10.  If built, the project would probably slow genetic ties between the tortoise populations north and south of the Interstate.  Defender's of Wildlife proposed that Solar Millennium and the CEC should reduce the project by ha…

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…