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Showing posts with the label Stateline

"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 …

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 …

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…

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects.

Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow; and still pending environmental review and approval in GreenAll told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could be des…

More Destruction Looms Over Ivanpah

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working on the final environmental impact statements for two more solar projects in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley, which straddles the California and Nevada border, and the documents are expected to be released this summer. BrightSource Energy's destructive Ivanpah Solar project is nearing completion there, but First Solar's proposed Stateline and Silver State South solar projects would destroy another eight square miles of intact desert ecosystem, with the most appalling destruction to occur at the 4.8 square mile Silver State South solar site. 

I hope at least one of the projects will canceled altogether or at least substantially trimmed down.  First Solar's reputation as a steward of the environment is at stake, and the company has no reason to ignore Fish and Wildlife Service concerns; the company has successfully built large projects on already-disturbed lands with minimized environmental impacts.  These Ivanpah projects will b…

BLM Urged to Preserve Ivanpah Linkage

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In a rather strong and thorough letter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in November asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reject First Solar's Silver State South solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, reiterating FWS concerns that the project will reduce or eliminate a critical linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  FWS' letter preceded a joint letter submitted in December by eight different environmental groups asking the BLM to suspend approval of any additional projects in the Ivanpah Valley until a conservation plan is in place, indicating that BLM decisions impacting the Ivanpah Valley so far have underestimated its biological importance.
FWS Comments on Silver State South Solar

FWS's asks the BLM to work with the applicant to modify the layout of the project if it is not possible to reject the project altogether, suggesting the alternatives already analyzed by BLM do not offer a sufficiently wide habitat linkage. Human development to the west, and t…

BLM Takes Another Piecemeal Step in Ivanpah

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late November issued the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for First Solar's Stateline Solar power project, only a month after issuing the Silver State South Solar DEIS -- both projects would be built in the Ivanpah Valley.  The BLM's draft documents lay out a plan allowing First Solar to bulldoze approximately 8 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, but fails to present a credible conservation strategy and overlooks other major developments on the horizon in this corner of the Mojave Desert.

The BLM only proposes token conservation measures in the documents --  establishing an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC) that arguably does not even preserve habitat connectivity for the Federally-listed desert tortoise (see my last post), and an extension of a desert wildlife management area (DWMA).  Both land use changes provide substantial carve-outs for the ill-sited solar projects, rendering the conservation…

More Hurdles for First Solar

Before First Solar commits to building solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, they should take a close look at BrightSource Energy's experience there.  The Los Angeles Times today posted an insightful article on the costs of building a solar energy project on some of the best desert tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert.  Focused on BrightSource Energy's solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, the LA Times describes communications in which BrightSource Energy complains about the costs of relocating tortoises, saying "[t]his truly could kill the project".  Yet it was BrightSource's choice to ignore the warnings of biologists and build on a site noted for the relative abundance of tortoises.

The alarm bells are still ringing and the red lights are flashing, but First Solar is proceeding defiantly with the environmental review process for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  Conservationists warn that those project sites also conta…

Saving Ivanpah

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2011 recommended that no further large-scale development be permitted in the Ivanpah Valley, warning that destroying more desert habitat in the area could sever or impair a critical linkage between desert tortoise populations, according to its Biological Opinion.  According to the FWS:
If development in the Ivanpah Valley severed population connectivity, it would essentially isolate the Eldorado Valley population from the rest of the recovery unit.We recommend that the Bureau amend the necessary land use plans to prohibit large- scale development (e.g., solar energy facilities, wind development, etc.) within all remaining portions of the Ivanpah Valley to reduce fragmentation within the critical linkage between the Ivanpah Critical Habitat Unit and the El Dorado Critical Habitat Unit.This recommendation was issued after the Department of Interior approved two large solar projects (ISEGS and Silver State North) and a high-speed rail line for con…