Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems.

The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.  California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy projects are expected to be submitted or reviewed by the California Energy Commission next year.

Mojave Desert:
  •  Abengoa Solar (proposed by Mojave Solar LLC):
    • Approximate footprint: 1765 acres
    • Energy production: 250MW
    • Status:  Approval Likely (pending PMPD comment period)
    • Location: west of Barstow on former agricultural land.
    • Notes: Abengoa will only have minimal impact on desert habitat.  However, it would use wet-cooling technology, which uses significant amounts of water in the plant operation.  Abengoa could consume over 350 million gallons of ground water each year, and retention ponds on the site could contain toxins and pose a hazard to birds in the area.
  • Beacon Solar (proposed by Beacon Solar LLC):  
    • Approximate footprint: 2000 acres 
    • Energy production: 250MW 
    • Status: Final Approval Granted 
    • Location: Former agricultural land west of California City.  
    • Notes: Although the project will only have minimal disruption on desert habitat, the developer chose to use wet-cooling technology which will require nearly 456 million gallons of water each year.  California City may begin to supply the plant with recycled water, but the transition to recycled water could take years.
  •  Calico Solar (proposed by Tessera Solar):
    • Approximate footprint: 8230 acres
    • Energy production: 850MW
    • Status: CEC requested reduced site layout citing ecological concerns
    • Location: Pristine desert habitat east of Barstow, and west of Amboy Crater.
    • Notes: The CEC noted the poor choice of locations selected by Tessera Solar for the Calico solar power project, which contains over 100 endangered desert tortoises, bighorn sheep foraging area, and prime Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat.  Tessera Solar may present a smaller site layout during a 20 September CEC conference.  The site would use "SunCatcher" technology which does not require wet-cooling, and would only use ground water for washing the mirrors.
  • Ivanpah Solar (proposed by BrightSource Energy):
    • Approximate footprint: 3230 acres
    • Energy production: 392MW
    • Location: Pristine desert habitat located just west of Primm, NV in California's Eastern Mojave Desert.
    • Status: Approval likely (pending PMPD comment period)
    • Notes: The Ivanpah Solar site will displace or kill at least 25 desert tortoises, and eliminate dozens of special status plant species that are found only in a few remaining locations in California, such as Mojave milkweed and Rusby's desert mallow.
  • Ridgecrest Solar (proposed by Solar Millennium):
    • Approximate footprint: 3920 acres
    • Energy production: 250MW
    • Location: pristine desert habitat southwest of Ridgecrest
    • Status: CEC review suspended
    • Notes:  The proposed site for the Ridgecrest Solar power project could disrupt a vital Mohave Ground squirrel corridor and displace or kill at least 40 desert tortoises.  The site is also home to burrowing owls and desert kit fox.  The CEC staff recommended against the proposed project, and the energy company--Solar Millennium LLC--decided to suspend review of its project in order to conduct a study of the Mohave Ground squirrel population in the area.  The study should be completed by 2013.
Colorado Desert:
  • Blythe Solar (proposed by Solar Millennium)
    • Approximate footprint: over 7,000 acres
    • Energy production: 1000MW
    • Location: just west of Blythe, CA
    • Status: Approval likely (pending PMPD comment period)
    • Notes:  The Blythe Solar site is currently home to desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, burrowing owls, and desert kit fox.  The site also provides foraging habitat to bighorn sheep.  The site's footprint would also effect 93 acres of public land specifically designated as a Desert Wildlife Management Area, which are supposed to be set aside for conservation purposes.
  • Genesis Solar (proposed by NextEra Energy):
    • Approximate footprint: 1,800 acres
    • Energy production: 250MW
    • Location: west of Blythe and east of Joshua Tree National Park
    • Status: Approval likely (pending PMPD comment period)
    • Notes: The site is of lower habitat quality compared to other solar sites (such as Calico, Ivanpah, Ridgecrest, or Blythe), but it could block wildlife movement from the Palen/McCoy Wilderness area to the north.
  • Imperial Valley Solar (proposed by Stirling Energy Systems and Imperial Valley Solar LLC)
    • Approximate footprint: 6,140 acres
    • Energy production: 750MW
    • Location: west of El Centro and east of Coyote Wells
    • Status:Approval likely (pending PMPD comment period)
    • Notes: This site will impact threatened flat-tail horned lizard populations, and eliminate bighorn sheep foraging habitat. 


  1. give it up, you lost!

  2. thanks Anonymous. I'm not the company paying millions of dollars in mitigation because it was too blind to choose a site of lesser ecological value like Abengoa's or Beacon's. It's a matter of sensible choices, not a zero-sum "I win, you lose" scenario.


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