Tessera Solar Project Could Kill 18 Tortoises for 60 MW

The California Energy Commission's (CEC) preliminary approval of Tessera Solar's Calico Solar power project would permit the company to build in some of the most sensitive and highest quality desert tortoise habitat available in the area.   The CEC Commissioners could have chosen a less destructive layout that avoids the highest quality habitat, but instead approved the more destructive layout, known as "Scenario 5.5."  For 60 extra megawatts, the CEC is permitting the potential loss of 18 extra tortoises.

Two Calico Solar Layouts Presented to the CEC

Scenario 5.5:
  • Megawatts: 663.5 MW
  • Acres: 4,613
  • Estimated tortoise disturbance: 22 tortoises (not including tortoise eggs)
Scenario 6:
  • Megawatts: 603.9
  • Acres: 4,244
  • Estimated tortoise disturbance:  4 tortoises
If given final approval, "Scenario 5.5" would kill or displace at least 22 desert tortoises, according to a US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate.   Scenario 6--the slightly smaller layout--would only displace or kill 4 tortoises.    Tessera Solar says it can produce a mere 60 megawatts (MW) more with scenario 5.5,  so essentially the CEC and Tessera Solar decided that an additional 18 potential tortoise deaths is an acceptable exchange.    

Screenshot of "Scenario 5.5", showing desert tortoise burrows found on the site.  The highest quality habitat toward the top of the site, and the tortoise exclusion fencing in yellow.
Keep in mind that other approved solar projects are far less destructive.  The Beacon Solar and Abengoa Solar power projects will each produce 250MW, and probably not result in a single tortoise death.

Another issue that arose during the 20 September hearings for the Calico Solar power project is the fact that tortoise exclusion fencing (designed to prevent tortoise entry to the construction area) will be installed even deeper into the high quality habitat.  It is not clear why Tessera Solar needs to essentially obstruct tortoise access to habitat that the company will not even use for the operation of the project.

The CEC issued the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision this weekend, which starts a 30 day public comment period.  The decision is not final until the CEC considers and addresses public concerns.

If you wish to send public comments regarding the Calico Solar power project, you can follow the following instructions:

Send an e-mail AND hard copy to the CEC.  The email and letter have to include the Docket number (Docket No. 08-AFC-13).  The email address is docket@energy.state.ca.us. The mailing address is: Energy Commission’s Docket Unit, 1516 Ninth Street, MS-4, Sacramento, CA 95814.  For more information, see the CEC public notice on the CEC Calico website.

If you need help or would like advice on how to craft more effective public comments, email me at boundless.liberty@gmail.com


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