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Ivanpah Solar Project May Displace or Kill Hundreds of Tortoises

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) now estimates that BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS) could displace or kill as many as 140 desert adult tortoises, and hundreds of juveniles which are harder to detect during construction.   When the Department of Interior and California Energy Commission initially approved the project, located in the northeastern Mojave Desert, they expected to encounter 38 tortoises on the site.  However, according to the monthly biological compliance report, the construction crews working on the first phase of the project (only a third of the total project) had already displaced 49 tortoises as of February, strongly suggesting that initial biological surveys underestimated the potential biological impact of the project.  The project's destructive impacts leave many asking why BrightSource Energy chose to build its facility on pristine habitat when thousands of acres of already-disturbed land and open rooftops await s…

A better response to the Atlantic Monthly

Chris Clarke over at Coyote Crossing posted an even better response to the Atlantic Monthly article I blogged about yesterday.  Chris deftly deconstructs Alexis Madrigal's article:
We’re one 22-word sentence into Madrigal’s piece, and I’ve spent almost four hundred words explaining what’s wrong with it. Given that the full piece runs to more than 3,300 words — and is at that only an excerpt of an upcoming book — the prospect of trying to tease some sense out of Madrigal’s writing is daunting....and tackles Madrigal's insidious attempt to paint Big Solar as a savior and redefine environmentalism in favor of industry:
The key is Madrigal’s misleading quote of ecologist Erle Ellis in a 2009 Wired Op-Ed. Ellis’ point was to attack the persistent view of nature and humanity, wilderness and society as somehow mutually exclusive. Ellis’ Op-Ed was deliberately provocative, hyperbolic even; there is much in it with which one could disagree. But it is in no way a call to pave wildl…

In Response to the Atlantic Monthly

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The Atlantic Monthly published an article today lamenting that "fledgling" solar energy companies face opposition from environmentalists in the quest to pave over the Mojave Desert with massive solar facilities and transmission lines.  The article ridicules our concern over endangered species, and demands an evolution in environmentalism so that we focus on human needs, and abandon what it describes as an outdated focus on conservation of nature far from humans.

The article sadly supports an old paradigm in energy generation, where companies are given unfettered access to public lands and we continue to pay inflated rates for electricity.  It ignores the real potential to cut greenhouse gasses by building distributed generation ("rooftop solar") or building larger facilities on already-disturbed land.  The EPA already identified ample disturbed land for renewable energy projects as part of its RE-powering America's Land program, and Germany is generating …

Supreme Court Favors Citizens in Fight Against Trash Dump

The Supreme Court today denied a petition by Kaiser Eagle Mountain Inc. in its quest to operate a landfill near Joshua Tree National Park.  The company filed an appeal to the Supreme Court claiming that the 9th Circuit Court wrongfully ruled in favor of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and concerned citizens Donna and Larry Charpied in 2009.  In that earlier ruling, the 9th Circuit decided that a land swap between the company and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)--which was necessary for the company to operate the landfill--was conducted illegally.  More specifically, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the BLM broke the National Environmental Policy Act when it constructed the "purpose and needs"statement in its evaluation of the project based on the goals of the company, and not the BLM's own goals.  

Although ruling against the landfill project, the 9th Circuit was also critical of the Charpieds, disagreeing with their claim that BLM's assessment …

Climate Change Likely to Reduce Range of Joshua Tree

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Global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions is expected to eliminate the iconic Joshua Tree (Yucca breviolia) from 90% of its current range within 60-90 years.  The tree is likely to be limited to the northern portion of its range, according to a study led by the US Geological Survey that looked at how the tree reacted to a sudden climate warming approximately 12,000 years ago.  

The climate study notes that the sudden warming period in the past reduced the Joshua Tree's range, and the extinction of the giant Shasta ground sloth since that time slowed the tree's ability to reclaim lost territory.  The giant ground sloth used to feed on the seeds of the Joshua Tree and spread them far and wide.  Today, small rodents such as squirrels and packrats still feed on the seeds, but do no carry them as far. 

Climate change poses a double threat to desert ecosystems since some energy companies are seeking to destroy desert habitat in order to build massive solar facilities and mee…

Six Billion Dollar High Speed Train Moves Forward, With Taxpayer Help

The proposed high-speed train line known as the "Desert Xpress" received final environmental approval this week from the Federal Railroad Administration, according to KCET.  The rail would link the City of Victorville with Las Vegas, crossing through the Mojave Desert, and cost at least 6 billion dollars.  The private company proposing the rail line expects a 4.9 billion dollar loan backed by taxpayers to finance most of the project.  As noted on KCET's blog, the rail line has been criticized by citizens as a waste of taxpayer funds and an unwise choice for private investors.  Most travel between Las Vegas and California comes from the Los Angeles basin --why would drivers abandon their cars in Victorville to hop on the train?  And can the line generate enough traffic to pay off the investment?

Most of the line follows the same route as Interstate 15, but the additional infrastructure is expected to compound ecological harm in some areas.  Most notably, the rail line wou…

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…