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New Research Describes Two Distinct Species of Desert Tortoise

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It has been 150 years since scientists officially described the desert tortoise as a species.  However, new research published this month indicates that we have actually been sharing the desert with at least two genetically distinct species of the desert tortoise.  Historically, many biologists and wildlife officials assumed the desert tortoise constituted a single species spanning the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in the US and Mexico.  The new research describes genetic, behavioral and physical differences that distinguish the two species of desert tortoise.   According to the research by Robert W. Murphy and Kristin H. Berry, among other scientists, the population of desert tortoise east of the Colorado River (Gopherus morafkai) is genetically distinct from the population to the west (Gopherus agassizii)

The recognition of the two distinct species means that the "Mojave" population (Gopherus agassizii) is actually much more imperiled and occupies a smaller range than previ…

Feds Coming Around to Rooftop Solar?

The White House may not have solar panels on the roof yet, but the Department of Energy last week finally approved financing for a plan to install solar panels on industrial warehouses to generate up to 733 megawatts of renewable energy.  The 1.4 billion dollar taxpayer-backed loan is expected to generate one thousand jobs over a four year period. 

More importantly, the money will not be used to destroy pristine public land in America's southwestern deserts.  The Department of Energy has approved other loans for the destructive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System and the Blythe Solar power projects, which will destroy over 16 square miles of desert habitat and Native American cultural sites.  So, in contrast, the rooftop solar financing seems like a win-win situation.  We can cut down pollution, create truly local jobs (not construction jobs in the middle of the desert), and utilize the untapped potential of rooftops to meet our energy needs.

Solar the Right Way...

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In a blog post titled "Every Rooftop Matters," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune explains the important role rooftop solar will play in cutting down harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  The Club's efforts to promote distributed generation are a welcome development given the troubling plans by some energy companies to bulldoze hundreds of square miles of pristine desert for remote projects.  Two of the massive projects have already begun construction, displacing hundreds of threatened desert tortoises and destroying Native American sacred sites.

In separate news, Google announced its investment of 280 million dollars in SolarCity, a rooftop solar business.  The investment could create 7,000-9,000 solar roofs. The announcement comes on the heels of Google's less appealing investments in the destructive Ivanpah Solar energy project (pictured below) and the Alta Wind Energy Center, a wind project that could result in at least 3,000 bird collisions each year.

Calico Solar Right of Way In Jeopardy

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Last month I wrote about the Calico Solar power project because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted Tessera Solar LLC permission to build a solar facility on pristine desert that Tessera never had the capacity to build in the first place, according to information put forward in legal proceedings.  Tessera Solar then sold its permission to build on 7 square miles of public land--called a "right-of-way" grant (ROW)--to a company called K Road Sun.  The BLM now considers the Calico Solar ROW to be "inoperative," and will not allow construction to proceed on the pristine desert until a new environmental analysis is completed, according to information provided by the BLM to the US District Court on 6 June.

K Road Sun modified Tessera Solar's original plans to include a different mix of solar technology, but still planned to use Tessera's "SunCatcher" dishes.  The SunCatcher technology is a major sticking point --if the SunCatchers cannot be mass…

Your tax dollars at work...

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Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar and California Governor Jerry Brown stand with executives from German firm Solar Millennium during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Blythe Solar power project.  Even though Solar Millennium's board is under investigation for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement, Mr. Salazar ok'd the project and over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and grants for the company.  Initial stages of construction have also destroyed part of a Native American sacred site.

According to the Department of Interior, these massive solar power projects on public land are called the "New Energy Frontier" --seems like just another version of corporate greed, scandal and disrespect for the public's land and money.   Perhaps they are ignoring the real energy frontier-- the untapped potential of rooftop solar, which energy experts assess can meet much of our energy demand in the southwest without sacrificing public land.

Ridgecrest Site Still Targeted by Solar Millennium

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According to information obtained by Basin and Range Watch, the German energy firm Solar Millennium LLC and its US front company, "Solar Trust of America," are proposing a reconfigured facility for the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  The new site would use all photovoltaic panels, instead of thermal solar technology.  Check out the Basin and Range Watch update here.

The facility was opposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff last year because the site chosen by Solar Millennium would cut off a Mohave ground squirrel corridor and destroy a robust desert tortoise population.   The company's board is currently being investigated for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement in Germany, but the US government is moving forward and issuing the company over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and 18 million dollars in grants for the Blythe solar power project.

Scandal-Plagued Company Holding Ceremony; Governor and Salazar to Attend

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German company Solar Millennium LLC and its American front "Solar Trust of America" are holding a groundbreaking ceremony for the Blythe Solar power project tomorrow, which California Governor Jerry Brown and Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar plan to attend.  Their attendance is surprising since the 11 square mile project is under scrutiny for financial misconduct and destruction of sacred Native American sites.  

Germany began investigating Solar Millennium after uncovering reports that an executive was paid 9 million Euros (about 12.5 million dollars) after working only 74 days at the company, and other board members are under investigation for embezzlement Despite the scandal, Solar Millennium's project is still on track to receive over 2.1 billion dollars in loans and an 18 million dollar grant from the Federal government (courtesy of the taxpayer).

Solar Millennium began initial construction on the site earlier this year, destroying some sacred geoglyphs (rock …