CEC Orders Calico Solar Back to the Drawing Board

According to a notice posted on the California Energy Commission (CEC) website, the Commission "cannot recommend approval of the Calico Solar Project as proposed" by Tessera Solar LLC because of the "scope and scale" of the environmental damage that the project would do to high quality Mojave Desert habitat.   The CEC's decision is an important message to energy companies that hastily choose to build large scale projects on pristine public land, and will hopefully encourage other energy companies to select sites that will not have such high impacts on ecologically sensitive land.

As noted in previous posts, there are thousands of acres of other suitable energy sites available in Southern California, to include already disturbed land.  Tessera Solar's choice to propose an 8,000 acre energy project in the Central Mojave Desert that is home to over a hundred endangered desert tortoises was a poor one.  The CEC should be applauded for recognizing the value of this land, and the irreversible nature of the damage that these energy sites can do to our desert wilderness.

I am sure there will be opponents of the decision that will claim "crazy environmentalists" are stunting economic growth.  To counter this inaccurate notion, consider the following:
  • The CEC has already approved--or provided preliminary approval--for several solar projects, to include Beacon Solar power project, Abengoa Solar (Abengoa and Beacon both are on previously disturbed land), Imperial Solar, Blythe Solar, Genesis Solar, and Ivanpah Solar.  
  • America values its public wilderness for more than just industrial use.  We began to realize this as a country by the middle of the last century when our natural heritage was being trashed, poisoned and bull-dozed.  Our national bird was threatened with extinction, and the bear that graces California's State flag no longer exists in the State.
  • Energy companies have plenty of locations to choose from for their proposed operations, to include public lands of less ecological importance and private parcels of land that have already been disturbed.  The companies are in a rush to benefit from public financing (American Reinvestment and Recover Act) and were short-sighted to choose public land that is also host to high quality habitat.
The CEC will consider any proposals by Tessera Solar for the same site that reduces the footprint of the project so that it avoids the highest quality habitat in the area.   The CEC set a hearing for 20 September to follow-up with Tessera Solar and other interested parties, and the CEC staff may hold a workshop before that date to discuss alternative project designs.


  1. Shawn, is there any chance this may kill the deal as far as the ARRA guaranteed loans go,because for sure they won't be able to do a tortoise roundup this fall, it seems to me that Calico can now be safe from development at least until September 2011 or thereabouts. With no construction of any consequence begun by
    yearend, they couldn't even try to qualify with the Treasury even under the 5% safe harbor, I think.

    My memory is being jogged but evidently not enough, is Tessera deciding to use their ARRA $
    here at Calico or at the Imperial Valley site?

    I feel anything that gives us more time and the desert more time is fantastic news and gives time for the DRECP to sink in at the CEC, especially their recommendations for "no regrets" siting on previously disturbed lands.

    I just want to add, I really appreciate the reporting that you are doing on these desert projects, we all do. Great job!

  2. A winning strategy now seems to be proposing an extremely large footprint and then scaling it down to a very large footprint and calling it "mitigation".

  3. This is good news (until we see the scaled-back project?). As I recall, Stirling some months ago said they couldn't do their projects without stimulus funding, so it will be hard for them to get under the wire for Calico.

    I was unable to find this announcement on the CEC website--where exactly do they say it?

  4. Howard, you can find the CEC notice asking Tessera to consider a reduced footprint under the Notices and Announcements section of the Calico page, at this link http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/calicosolar/notices/index.html

    Bill, thanks again for your work on this as well! I appreciate your site visits and video, which definitely bring these places to life.

  5. The USA will still not reduce its environmental impact (as in global impact) even if we cover the entire Mojave Desert with solar facilities. If greenhouse gases matter to you, this decision in favor of preservation of the tortoise over cleanest energy technology is frankly idiotic. This is NIMBYism at its absolute worst.

  6. Do you people even live in the Mojave Desert? There is so much land already set aside in Feinstein's desert protection act that it makes it impossible to find anything undisturbed. That is except for the huge swaths of land taken up by the military industrial complex which you don't seem to care about.

  7. Anonymous, I grew up in the Mojave Desert, and I am quite aware of what we will lose if we decide to bulldoze hundreds of thousands of acres for solar energy. Just to meet California's requirement of 33% renewable energy, we would have to destroy 200 square miles of land. So tell me, what is more idiotic? Ravaging every acre of open land that generations of Americans have enjoyed so you can run your air conditioner and watch Fox News, or putting solar panels on your roof or on top of warehouses instead?

  8. Shaun, You never even mentioned the military Industrial Complex and how tanks and guns kill our precious desert. (I'm a veteran so I know) 200 square miles of desert land? 29 Palms Marine Base is 950 square miles and they want over 800 more square miles. How about Ft. Irwin and China Lake? Why aren't you and the rest of these blogs raising red flags?
    And for your information, I don't run an air conditioner, but I do provide all the electricity my family uses with solar panels mounted on my roof in the Mojave Desert where I live. I'm totally OFF GRID and don't use my electricity to watch Faux-News.
    What I'm concerned about is that you don't understand your own footprint on electricity usage (manufacture of goods and transportation of what we consume). And about all those warehouses that were not built to support the extra weight of solar panels? I also see that you don't understand the process of installing these Stirling engines with minimal footprint.
    The real problem here is the ballooning population in the desert southwest - water - jobs - and energy. What is going to happen when the water runs out in Lake Mead, and Hoover Dam can no longer produce 2 gigawatts of electricity? Open your eyes Shaun! You cannot survive in this desert without water and energy! That's why the Indians called the Mojave "No man's land" before the white man came.


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