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First Round of Solar Projects Cast Shadow on Future of Desert Ecosystem

The first batch of solar power projects approved by the Bureau of Land Management have begun construction and are expected to fragment and industrialize America's remaining southwestern deserts, blocking wildlife movement and driving some plant and animal species closer to extinction.   Although some projects will be built on land that is already disturbed or on privately owned land, the vast majority are on public land with pristine desert habitat.  Although Federal and State requirements will require measures to lessen the impact on plants and wildlife, the long-term impact of these projects is expected to seriously degrade the ecology of the two primary bio-regions in Southern California--the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Summary of solar power projects: Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Company: BrightSource Energy LLCProject area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles)Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in CaliforniaBiological impacts:  At least 40 dese…

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…

BLM Underestimating Impacts on Desert Tortoise?

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is estimating that only 12 desert tortoises will be affected by the construction of the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project.   However, biologists have found at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows, suggesting the number of tortoises could be much higher than the BLM report acknowledges.  The project is proposed by First Solar and would consume 6.8 square miles of public land adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park.

Why does this matter?  The BLM tortoise population estimates are considered by the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy when trying to assess the overall impact of a proposed energy project.  The lower the number, the easier it is for big energy companies to build their projects on public land, and receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants.

The BLM already underestimated the number of desert tortoises on another solar project site in California.  In the separate case,  BLM stated that they expected to remove 32 de…

Desert Skies Calendar

It's almost 2011, do you know where your new calendar is?  Check out a calendar put together by Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing. The Desert Skies calendar includes photography of beautiful desert vistas, and you can preview the photos at his site.

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…

Government Favors Destructive Layout of Solar Facility Near National Park

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reviewed three different alternatives for the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project, and expressed support for a 6.8 square mile layout that includes an area with a dense desert tortoise population.  The Desert Sunlight solar project would be built by First Solar and Desert Sunlight Holdings LLC on public land less than two miles from Joshua Tree National Park.  The project is still in the initial stages of review, and you can read the draft environmental impact statement and offer comments on the BLM website.

Among the three different alternatives, layout "C" would have the least impact on desert tortoises and other sensitive plant and wildlife, but the BLM and CPUC expressed support for layout "B," which contains at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows.  Surveys of the smaller layout "C" only found 7 active burrows.  The draft Environmental Impact Statement d…

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…