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Showing posts with the label Ridgecrest

Big Solar Seeks Path of Least Resistance

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) on 14 December will meet to consider a proposed decision that would allow solar companies to select whether to submit to local or State (CEC) review when building large photovoltaic solar facilities on public land.  This is important in the near term particularly for the Ridgecrest Solar power project, a proposed facility that would decimate a Mohave ground squirrel connectivity corridor and a robust desert tortoise population.  In the long term, the rule change would give big solar companies the ability to choose what they think will be the path of least resistance to build projects that destroy vast swaths of public land.    Although the CEC has previously opposed the Ridgecrest project, it's approval of several other projects has earned it a reputation as the place where solar companies go for fast-track approval that often ignores environmental and cultural destruction.  It's this reputation that makes people nervous about a regulatio…

Destructive Ridgecrest Solar Project in Limbo

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German firm Solar Millennium LLC, and its American front company ("Solar Trust of America") recently decided to change the proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project from all concentrating solar thermal mirrors to photovoltaic panels (PV), a more economically efficient technology.  However, when Solar Millennium asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) for permission to modify its Ridgecrest project to PV technology,  the CEC staff declined to continue certification for the project and is likely to relinquish jurisdiction to another authority.  The CEC only reviews and certifies thermal energy projects, and PV technology is not classified as thermal.  The legal snag is likely to further delay consideration of the project, which the CEC staff previously assessed to be poorly sited and likely to have significant negative impacts on desert wildlife. 

Solar Millennium is desperately trying to fit a square through a round hole with the Ridgecrest project.  After the CEC staff an…

Top 10 Myths Renewable Energy Companies Want You to Believe

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Big Solar and Wind companies still pretend they can do no harm to the environment, projecting a misleading image that glosses over the damage their projects cause.  We have to face the facts if we're going to chose the right renewable energy path--which is distributed generation (such as rooftop solar), or projects on already disturbed land (such as those identified by the EPA's RE-Powering America's Land program). 

Before I break into the list, I will say that coal and oil companies are also guilty of misinformation, and there is no doubt that their products damage the environment and our health.  But if we are going to prevent renewable energy from taking a path that also destroys our open spaces and wildlands, we need to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Here are the Top 10 myths you will hear from Big Solar and Wind energy company executives:

10.) Bulldozing the land to build massive solar or wind farms may have local impacts, but it will save the rest of the world…

Ridgecrest Site Still Targeted by Solar Millennium

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According to information obtained by Basin and Range Watch, the German energy firm Solar Millennium LLC and its US front company, "Solar Trust of America," are proposing a reconfigured facility for the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  The new site would use all photovoltaic panels, instead of thermal solar technology.  Check out the Basin and Range Watch update here.

The facility was opposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff last year because the site chosen by Solar Millennium would cut off a Mohave ground squirrel corridor and destroy a robust desert tortoise population.   The company's board is currently being investigated for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement in Germany, but the US government is moving forward and issuing the company over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and 18 million dollars in grants for the Blythe solar power project.

Loggerhead Shrike

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A loggerhead shrike perched on the branch of a creosote bush in the western Mojave Desert, where Solar Millennium proposes building the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  

Desert Calico

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A Desert Calico flower blooming on the site of Solar Millennium's proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project. The site is mostly creosote shrub habitat, with a desert wash crossing much of the area.  Biodiversity on the site is high, with desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel, loggerhead shrike, and various flowering plants.


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…

Ridgecrest Solar Power Project Cancelled

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Update: Solar Millennium LLC has since revived its proposal to destroy 6 square miles of public land, as of 24 March 2011.

Ending a stubborn and costly effort to destroy public lands in the name of profit, Solar Millennium finally canceled its proposal to build the Ridgecrest Solar power project in the Western Mojave Desert.   The company planned to bulldoze over 6 square miles of desert, but the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff warned the company about its intention not to approve the project.  The site is located on a Mohave Ground Squirrel connectivity corridor that links different populations of the animal, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service may list under the Endangered Species Act.  The site also hosts at least 40 endangered desert tortoises, and local residents expressed concerns about the project's overdraft of scarce groundwater resources.

The CEC's review of the Ridgecrest Solar power project was put on hold in July 2010 after the CEC initially expressed …

Ivanpah Tortoise Count Highlights Poor Choices

Workers at BrightSource Energy's 5.6 square mile solar energy site in the Ivanpah Valley have now found approximately 40 desert tortoises in the paths of bulldozers, and the project is only in initial stages of construction.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service only expected to find 32 tortoises on the entire site, showing that the biological assessment of the Ivanpah Solar site underestimated its ecological value.  Some biologists are now concerned that the population of tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley--which represents a "genetically significant unit"--is at risk of a serious population decline as a result of solar energy projects.

On the other side of the Mojave, Solar Millennium LLC continues to search for ways to site a large solar power plant near the town of Ridgecrest.  Review of the company's proposal was suspended by the California Energy Commission (CEC) due to concerns that the site selected by Solar Millennium for its proposed project was too ecologically i…

Mohave Ground Squirrel Study Plan Due in October

The California Energy Commission (CEC) held expects to receive a proposal to study Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat connectivity from researchers by 15 October.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel is a threatened species that is found only in the western Mojave Desert, and lives in habitat being fragmented by urbanization, transportation corridors and now energy development.

Solar Millennium sought to build the a large solar power installation near the town of Ridgecrest that would have destroyed the Mohave Ground Squirrel's habitat.  The CEC opposed the project on the grounds that its ecological impact would be too significant, so Solar Millennium is planning to conduct a multi-year study of Mohave Ground Squirrel activity in the area to identify where in the area it could build an industrial operation.  The company's researchers will present their study plan by October 15th.

The CEC also revealed, however, that the Public Interest Energy Research Program is also starting a much wider …

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…

Ridgecrest Solar Power Project Consideration Suspended for Two Years

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According to a letter submitted by Solar Millennium, the company has asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to temporarily suspend the application review of its proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power project.  As noted previously on this blog, the Ridgecrest Solar power project could fragment critical Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat and harm a healthy desert tortoise population.  

Solar Millennium intends to use the suspension period to conduct an intensive study of the Mohave Ground Squirrel--aided by a known expert on the species--to shed light on the population and behavior in the vicinity of Ridgecrest beginning in Spring 2011 and run for two years.  In its letter, Solar Millennium stated its plans to restart the application for the Ridgecrest site if the study finds that construction will not significantly impact the Mohave Ground Squirrel.   The company could use the study to find a configuration for the site (or perhaps an alternative location) that would be less likely to draw o…

Solar Millenium Study Casts Doubt on Desert Tortoise Significance

Solar Millennium presented the results of a study that it presumably funded regarding the desert tortoise population on the proposed site of the Ridgecrest Solar Power project.  As noted in previous posts, the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff judged that construction on the proposed site would incur harm to the threatened Mohave Ground Squirrel and endangered desert tortoise that could not be corrected by mitigation efforts, and recommended against the project.  Solar Millenium's study, however,  supports its desire to build on the site and argues that the tortoise population present on the site is not worth preserving.

The Study's Findings:
According to the Solar Millennium study, the density of the desert tortoise population on the Ridgecrest site is not significant based on surveys of the West Mojave conducted in 1999.   The study makes this judgment by citing previous surveys (1999 and older) that suggest the desert tortoise population on the Ridgecrest site is comp…

Solar Millennium Intent on Building on Poorly Chosen Ridgecrest Site

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Despite an array of potentially disastrous impacts on Mojave Desert species, water resources for the community of Ridgecrest, and even the risk of spreading Valley Fever among residents, Solar Millennium LLC appears intent to build the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power project.   During a 17 May status conference, Solar Millennium demanded clarity from the CEC and wildlife agencies on specifically what mitigation measures could be instituted to overcome the biological impacts.  I previously posted on the Ridgecrest project in March after the California Energy Commission (CEC) issued a preliminary assessment recommending against construction on the site, claiming that no mitigation measures--habitat restoration, translocation of tortoises, etc--would adequately make up for the damage Solar Millennium would incur on our natural resources.

The site is home to a high density population of desert tortoise--to include a healthy juvenile tortoise population--and the site functions as a key cor…

Initial Ridgecrest Solar Workshop Read-Out

A reader of this blog posted a brief summary of the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project public workshop held 23/24 April to address questions about the proposed site on issues of water, soil, transportation etc (pretty much everything except biological resources, which will be covered on 3 and 4 May.  See the original post here.)

What is striking is that the water usage of the Ridgecrest site, which is a dry-cooled plant (so presumably it is much more water efficient than other proposed solar sites) would still have enormous impacts on ground water.  Ridgecrest's consumption of approximately 150 acre feet a year is dwarfed by the consumption of the proposed Abengoa Solar site near Barstow and Helendale, which would consume nearly 1,077 acre-feet per year. 

If you could not make it to the 23/24 April Public Workshop, you can attend the 3rd or 4th May workshop focused on biological resources at Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM. 

Comment from Laura about the recent public workshops:
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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 …

Public Workshops for Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), there will be four public workshops held to discuss the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The workshops will give members of the public an opportunity to discuss or learn more about the recently published staff assessment and environmental impact statement for the project.   The first pair of workshops in April will address water, soil, visual, air, land use, and traffic issues.   The second pair of workshops in May will address biological resources.   You can read more about the staff assessment and EIS on a previous post on this blog.

The workshops will be held on 22 April AND 23 April, and on 3 May and 4 May (biological issues) at the Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM on each day.  You can also call into the workshop if you cannot attend in person.  The following information is from the CEC e-mail notice:

*Who*: The staff of the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will jointly hold a public works…

Erasing Wilderness and Belittling America

I've come across a few instances of press articles and editorials that criticize the California Energy Commission's (CEC) proposed biological conditions imposed on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, and the CEC Staff's recommendation against the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The criticism contends that economic development is held up for the sake of "squirrels" and "turtles", referring to the endangered Mojave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.  The argument assumes that all business decisions are wise ones and that our country should essentially grant right of way to industrial development wherever the private sector points on the map.

I have two problems with these critics.

1.) America's wilderness is at a premium these days.  The open tracts of desert and forest, and the various species of flora and fauna that keep it a healthy wilderness, embody the original America that inspired and challenged earlier generations to innovate and…

CEC Staff Recommends Against Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

In the California Energy Commission's (CEC) Staff Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project, the CEC recommended against the project, citing the potential damage to biological resources could not be mitigated.   Solar Millenium proposed building a 250MW dry-cooled solar energy plant on a 3,995 acre right-of-way just west of Ridgecrest -- approximately 2,000 acres would be disturbed for the site construction and operation.  Overall, the CEC Staff's recommendation is a very positive sign that the certification process can account for the need to preserve wilderness and biological treasures in the Mojave Desert.  Despite the Staff's assessment, the final decision will not be made until after the CEC holds evidentiary hearings and the presiding member makes a final decision.  The staff assessment is not a final verdict.

As mentioned in an earlier post examining preliminary biological surveys of the site, the Ridgecrest project w…

catching up...

I've been on the road so consequently I have not been able to post recently.  I plan to share the fruits of my travels and post some photos and experiences from a recent visit to the Mojave National Preserve.  In the meantime, I wanted to point out that the Ridgecrest solar power project Staff Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available on the CEC website.  As noted in previous posts, the Ridgecrest project could have impacts on Mojave Desert biological resources comparable to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.  I'll post a summary of the assessment and EIS this week.