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Showing posts with the label Soda Mountains

County Rejects Environmental Certification of Soda Mountain Solar

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The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject the environmental analysis of the Soda Mountain Solar project, placing a significant hurdle in the path of a project that would have threatened important wildlife habitat next to the Mojave National Preserve.  Supervisors Lovingood, Gonzales, and Rutherford expressed concern during a lengthy meeting today that the environmental analysis was inadequate and did not address the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's input regarding impacts on desert bighorn sheep.  During closing comments, Supervisor Lovingood pointed out that projects of this scale would be better located on already-disturbed lands in the County, and mentioned specific sites as examples.

Regenerate Power,  the company that now owns the Soda Mountain Solar proposal after corporate behemoth Bechtel pulled out of the project, proposed to build the project along Interstate-15 and next to the Mojave National Preserve.  However, the location chosen …

Interior Approval Threatens Mojave Wildlife

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Interior this month signed the Record of Decision formally approving the Soda Mountain Solar project, despite landscape-level planning that identified this area as a significant opportunity to connect otherwise isolated bighorn sheep populations.  If Bechtel finds a utility company willing to purchase power from the 287 MW project, it will bulldoze nearly 4 square miles of intact desert next to the Mojave National Preserve to install photovoltaic panels that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands (more than 400 MW of rooftop solar capacity was installed in the first three months of 2015, alone).

Interior delayed issuing the record of decision for almost a year after it published a final environmental assessment, underscoring the difficulty Interior has faced trying to say yes to this unnecessary and controversial project. The area that would be bulldozed currently provides foraging habitat for bighorn sheep, and the water pumped by the project could …

Are You Kidding?: Interior Set to Approve Project Near Soda Mountain

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The Department of Interior released its final environmental impact statement for Bechtel's Soda Mountain Solar project and appears to abandon previous "landscape-level" planning.  The document signals imminent approval for the nearly three square mile project that could ironically make it more difficult for desert bighorn sheep to adapt to climate change and imperil an endangered desert fish, ignoring alternative locations for the solar panels on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.

According to the environmental review, the desert habitat that will be destroyed to make way for the Soda Mountain Solar project currently hosts as many as 142 different species of native plants, 13 reptile species, and 15 mammal species, including three species of bats that forage on the site.  Fifty-one different bird species have been documented using the habitat, including burrowing owls.  Biologists found 50 recently active owl burrows on the project site.


Confidence Rests on Dangerous A…

Soda Mountain: A Test of Landscape Level Planning

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The Bureau of Land Management is expected to conclude its environmental review of the Soda Mountain Solar project - one of the most contentious utility-scale solar projects currently being reviewed for construction on public lands - any day now.  The release of the final environmental impact statement for the Soda Mountain Solar project is overdue, almost certainly a result of inter-agency wrangling following the publication of the draft environmental analysis that underplayed the potential impact of the project on natural springs critical to desert wildlife, and the area's potential to restore habitat connectivity for bighorn sheep.  Also at stake is whether or not the BLM will ignore landscape-level planning that has identified the proposed solar project site as critical for wildlife.


Wildlife Crossing or Industrial Zone?

The Department of Interior has pursued a “landscape-scale approach to identify and facilitate investment in key conservation priorities in a region” (Secretar…

Bridges for Bighorn

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Despite efforts to protect desert habitat in the southwest, major highways criss-crossing the desert are isolating wildlife into smaller pockets and hindering genetic exchange necessary to keep species healthy and resilient.  Desert bighorn sheep are not exempt from this impact; they may be agile and swift, but they are no match for several lanes of speeding cars and semi-trucks, and they tend to shy away from culverts that cross under highways.

Biologists have already noticed that desert bighorn sheep populations in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts are becoming genetically isolated because the region's major highways - such as Interstate 15 and Interstate 40 - and other human developments pose a barrier to sheep movement from one range to another.  According to a 2005 article in Ecology Letters,  biologists found "a rapid reduction in genetic diversity (up to 15%)" among desert bighorn sheep resulting from "as few as 40 years of anthropogenic isolation. Interstate h…

The Future of Zzyzx: Solar Project or Wildlife?

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Here we go again.  Do we allow Bechtel to destroy 3.8 square miles of desert habitat, or keep the wildlands intact to preserve a potential wildlife corridor?  Bechtel's proposed 350 megawatt Soda Mountain Solar project could dry up habitat for an endangered desert fish, and foreclose an opportunity to restore bighorn sheep habitat connectivity.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a draft environmental impact statement that signals likely approval for the Soda Mountain  project, although environmental groups, former National Park superintendents, and other citizens are expressing concern regarding the BLM's environmental review.  Prospects for wildlife are dim, however;  BLM also ignored wildlife concerns and environmental group protests when they approved the Stateline and Silver State South Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  A judge denied a preliminary request from Defenders of Wildlife to stop the Ivanpah projects i…

This is Not Disturbed Land

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Recent press articles suggest the energy industry continues its efforts to define the ecological viability of desert habitat in a way that gives it wide latitude to build in some of the most remote corners of the American southwest.

First, the Bechtel corporation told SCPR reporter Caitlin Esch that it should be allowed to bulldoze over 3.4 square miles of desert to build its Soda Mountain Solar project next to the Mojave National Preserve because “[t]here are distribution lines, phone lines, petroleum pipelines, a cell phone tower, a mine, off-highway vehicle recreation area, it’s also permitted for high speed rail."  Apparently some phone lines, buried pipelines, and a cell phone tower in a valley means the rest of the intact habitat is not worth saving.  In other words, Bechtel should be allowed to disturb as much as 2,800 football fields worth of land because some telephone lines already exist in the valley.   The project will also pump over 62.5 million gallons during cons…