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BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Update

It has been nearly two and a half years since BrightSource Energy began destroying over 5 square miles of intact desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to build a utility-scale solar energy facility.  After mowing down desert vegetation - some of it potentially hundreds of years old - and installing nearly 300,000 giant mirrors and three "power towers", the company is nearing the point of generating and shipping energy over hundreds of miles of transmission lines to customers far from this corner of the Mojave Desert.  The destruction caused by BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is unnecessary -- during the project's construction, California added more rooftop solar than will be generated by BrightSource, and other companies are building solar facilities on already-disturbed lands.

Rare plants, such as the Rusby's desert mallow, Mojave milkweed and Parish club cholla cactus are lost, as are nests of cactus wrens and thrashers, and foragi…

Find a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Near You

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) routinely sponsors field trips in the desert and nearby mountains, know as a "rare plant treasure hunt," checking out local plant populations and looking for some of the rarest plants in our regions.   Intrepid plant enthusiasts earlier this year hiked far into the craggy mountains near Death Valley in search of the rare Panamint Daisy (they found it!), while others scouted out the San Gabriel Mountans and the Mojave National Preserve in search of special blooms.  It's a great way to enjoy desert wildlands and learn more about the ecosystem. The Bristlecone and Creosote Ring Chapters in Southern California have a few more trips planned, and you can check those out at their chapter websites here and here.

Brilliant Blooms

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On my last visit to the Mojave National Preserve,  I came across many of the cacti pictured below sporting brilliant red blooms, which I believe are Mojave mound cactus (welcome corrections on this identification!).  I never tired of admiring each one, which made it difficult to get anywhere in a timely manner.


Neon Desert

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I was struck by the bright colors of the lichen on the lava rock, and a blooming chia (Salvia columbariae) in the foreground. This was taken at the cinder cones in the Mojave National Preserve.




Forget Me Not

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A "forget-me-not" (Cryptantha angustifolia ?) only a few centimeters high blooms in the shelter of a giant granite boulder in the Mojave Desert, with lichen adding a dash of color to the granite.

Center for American Progress Endorses Destruction of Public Lands; Wilderness Society Distributes Piece in Social Media

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The Wilderness Society appears to support the destruction of public lands, as long as the diesel-guzzling bulldozers are clearing the way for a shiny new solar or wind energy facility.  That is the bottom line of a blog piece written by the Center for American Progress writers Jessica Goad and Joe Romm--and posted by the Wilderness Society on its facebook and twitter accounts--in which Center for American Progress also suggests that Americans do not cherish their desert open spaces. The Wilderness Society's willingness to disseminate the blog piece without raising concerns for the content suggest they find merit in the article.

The Center for American Progress is protesting an article by the Los Angeles Times that sheds light on the destruction of the Ivanpah Valley by BrightSource Energy for its 5.6 square mile solar facility.  The LA Times also draws attention to a land rush by solar developers proposing to destroy hundreds of square miles of desert wildlands throughout Amer…

BrightSource Balks at Environmental Concerns

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BrightSource Energy is on the defensive as wildlife officials express valid concerns that its proposal to bulldoze 9 square miles of California desert will kill protected raptors and migratory birds, in addition to concerns about other wildlife and rare plants.  BrightSource proposes to build two new projects that involve thousands of large mirrors called "heliostats" that focus the sun's rays at a central point on top of a 750 foot tall "power tower" to heat a steam generator.  The super-heated air around the top of the tower is likely to "incinerate" eagles and other birds that fly above the facility, according to communication between the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  The other major threat will be the thousands of heliostat mirrors that reflect the sky and cause bird collisions.

The Rio Mesa solar project would be built on nearly 9 square miles of public and private lands in a migratory corridor for…

How Many Plants Species in the Desert?

Would you expect that California's desert hosts gives the redwood forest a run for its money when it comes to plant biodiversity?  It's easy to take the desert for granted when all you want to do is zoom through it on the highway and get to your destination. But you are passing by an amazing and biologically diverse ecosystem.  There are at least 2,450 native plant species found in California's desert, according to a great article by Chris Clarke on desert life, posted at KCET.

If you want to learn more about our amazing deserts, join Desert Biodiversity, a new organization dedicated to exploring, respecting and defending the deserts.

Environmentalism for the 1%

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The departure of the Sierra Club's chairman -- Carl Pope -- comes during a dark moment for environmentalism.  The vanguards of the green movement have compromised their core conservation ethic, forging alliances with corporations and ignoring the grassroots in order to make way for an unchecked renewable energy industry that is more intent on destroying public lands than saving them.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlights how Pope may be a casualty of this attempt to gain influence in Washington and Wall Street, but his approach has been practiced by other national environmental groups,  including the Wilderness Society, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.  These groups have desperately sought acceptance among business and political elites, painting themselves as job creators by selling out America's landscapes to big wind and solar firms, and then bragging about the jobs they have supported.  What have they gained? Loss of respect among th…

All Eyes on Ivanpah: Will Federal Policy Finally Take Notice?

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BrightSource CEO John Woolard told the media that his company's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS)--a 5.6 square mile energy facility being built on public land in the northeastern Mojave Desert--has "the lowest environmental impact of any project in solar." Anybody familiar with the Ivanpah Valley--a beautiful desert landscape blanketed by creosote bushes and yucca, and ringed by rocky spires inhabited by bighorn sheep--knows that his statement simply could not be true.  Mr. Woolard's attempts to conceal the destructive impact of ISEGS are failing since the project has actually become an icon of poor solar siting, representing the dangers of building vast facilities on ecologically intact desert habitatThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week was confronted with this reality when citizens submitted a conservation plan for the area, and Washington announced a draft policy that could discourage solar development there. 

BrightSource Project an Icon …

Desert Treasures

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Get out of your car, and take a closer look at the desert and you'll be amazed and inspired by the life here.  Each plant is a triumph of life's persistence and adaptability.  Lizards, snakes, tortoises, moths, butterflies, beetles, kangaroo rats, shrews, raptors, vultures, owls, bobcats, bighorn sheep.  I wish I could spy them all, but mother nature does not make it easy.  Even in the heat of the day, though, all of the telltale signs are there -- tracks in the sand, burrows big and small, the withering remains of a spring bloom, scat, and owl pellets.

A great blog that captures the beauty and elusiveness of some of the desert's majesty is The Rare Plant Treasure Hunt.  Check it out for some great photos and adventures!



Conservationists Offer Alternative to First Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday hosted a public meeting to discuss one of two solar projects that would be built in the Ivanpah Valley by First Solar Inc, drawing concerned citizens who expressed deep frustrations with a misguided renewable energy policy.   Desert experts and conservation advocates in attendance presented an alternative proposal to designate much of the valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in order to protect a crucial genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and habitat for rare plants and other wildlife.   The full ACEC petition can be viewed at Basin and Range Watch's website.   Many citizens at the meeting have long called for distributed solar generation (such as rooftop solar), or placing solar facilities on lands that are already disturbed instead of on ecologically intact areas such as the Ivanpah Valley.

The two projects proposed by First Solar--Stateline and Silver State South--would essentially shut off a …

Environmental Groups Warn Interior on Calico Solar Project

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Three environmental groups--the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Natural Resources Defense Council--threatened to take legal action in Federal court against the Department of Interior's approval of the Calico solar power project, urging instead that it be built on already-disturbed lands.   The challenge represents the most significant step taken by these environmental groups to establish principles in what has otherwise been a rush by the Obama administration to industrialize public lands in the name of "green" energy. 

The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium.  The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impacts o…

Vanishing Flowers

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Spring blooms in the Antelope Valley, in the western Mojave Desert.  The Antelope Valley is also famous for the iconic California poppy (official State flower).  Unfortunately, the proposed Blue Sky wind energy project and "Wildflower Green Energy Farm" would industrialize several square-miles of these fields around the famed California Poppy Reserve, adding wind turbines and solar panels.

You can visit Friends of Antelope Valley Open Space for more information.


Caithness Solar Threatens Heart of the Mojave Desert

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A project proposed by New York-based Caithness Energy could degrade or destroy up to 6.8 square miles of public land identified by the Nature Conservancy study as "biologically core" to the health of the Mojave Desert.  The Soda Mountain Solar Project would be built on pristine desert habitat--mostly creosote scrub--and would likely disrupt an essential habitat connectivity corridor.
Desert experts fear that the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) initial review of the site does not adequately describe the importance of the area and biological resources that likely exist there.  According to the BLM Plan of Development for the project obtained by Basin and Range Watch,  the special status plant survey carried out for the plan of development was only cursory in nature and conducted in December when the extent of botanical resources are less apparent.  The plan of development also reports finding no desert tortoises on the project site, despite the relatively intact tortois…

Rare Earth Mining Claims Loom Over Eastern Mojave

A review of BLM records and industry reports indicate that at least one company is consolidating old mining claims near the beleaguered Ivanpah Valley in the eastern Mojave Desert and preparing plans to start major operations.   Most of the claims being acquired date back to the 1950s, when prospectors rushed to the hills skirting the Ivanpah Valley in search of Thorium and Uranium, radioactive elements they obviously anticipated to reap financial rewards in the new nuclear age.  Thorium happens to be an element often associated with deposits of rare earth elements (REE), which are used in many of our modern luxuries, including batteries, LED lighting, solar panels, magnets, etc.

The only major mine that came of that rush in the 1950s was Molycorp's Mountain Pass mine on the west side of the Ivanpah Valley, which began producing rare earth minerals in 1952 and has expanded greatly since then.  Mountain Pass--and its history of damage to public land--may not be alone for much longe…

Measuring the Renewable Energy Land Grab

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One thousand square miles.  That's how much public land energy companies want to bulldoze over the next few years in California for massive solar and wind facilities, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) list of pending and approved wind testing and solar applications.   That is more than two times the size of Los Angeles, over four times the size of San Francisco, and more than 14 times the size of Washington D.C.  But what would 1,000 square miles of solar and wind projects get us? Will it stop climate change?  Not nearly.  The proposed projects would generate 13.7 gigawatts of energy.   That is less than a quarter of California's total energy generation capacity.  Building fields of glass and metal the size of the cities they are meant to power does not make sense. 

There is a lot of political momentum pushing these massive projects at the expense of investing in distributed generation (such as rooftop solar) which would spare our wildlands for future genera…