First Solar, Inc Adds to Destruction of Ivanpah Ecosystem

First Solar Inc. is proposing to build two projects in the Ivanpah Valley which will have significant cumulative impacts on plants and wildlife in the northeastern Mojave.  Although one of First Solar's projects has already received partial approval, the company's second project can expect intense opposition.

Earlier this year, BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS) was approved for construction by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC).  The ISEGS project alone will destroy 5.6 square miles and is expected to kill or displace well over 40 desert tortoises, but there are other projects planned that could continue to deprive the Ivanpah Valley of its threatened plant and wildlife. 

First Solar, Inc. is proposing to build its "Stateline" project on approximately 3.4 square miles of public land just north of the ISEGS site.  An initial study conducted by First Solar observed 27 tortoises on the site, and special status plants such as the Mojave milkweed, Parish's club-cholla, and small flowered-androstephium.  Basin and Range Watch provides a more thorough overview of the First Solar Stateline project on its website.

On the other side of the Ivanpah Valley but in Nevada, First Solar is planning to build the Silver State project on over 12 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat.  In the Environmental Impact Statement for the Silver State project, the BLM expressed concerns for the viability of the desert tortoise population in the Ivanpah Valley.  The tortoises belong to an evolutionary significant unit, which means the gene pool of the Ivanpah Valley tortoises is important to the long-term health of the entire species across America's southwest.  
Map of projects proposed for the Ivanpah Valley from the Basin and Range Watch website.
Despite BLM's concerns about the tortoise, the Department of the Interior approved the first phase of the Silver State project, and is beginning its review of the Stateline project soon.  ISEGS was approved earlier in the year.  Combined, all three projects will destroy over 21 square miles of the Ivanpah Valley, eroding the quality of the remaining habitat in the area. 

First Solar's Stateline project can expect hefty opposition, however.  The cumulative environmental impacts on wildlife in the northeastern Mojave are mounting quickly, hastened by First Solar's Silver State and BrightSource's ISEGS.  The Stateline project's close proximity to the ISEG's project means that tortoises "relocated" from the ISEGS project will be placed in jeopardy again, an impact that was not adequately considered in the ISEGS environmental review.  Tortoises being found on the ISEGS site are being released just outside the project boundaries, and could stray into and inhabit the desert being considered for the Stateline project.  For tortoises that survive the initial relocation, a second relocation may prove too stressful, reducing the chances of their survival.

It's not clear why First Solar, Inc. continues to view it's Stateline project as viable, given the opposition experienced by BrightSource Energy's ISEGS project and given the biological resources already found on the site.   First Solar's poor site choice will also affect its bottom line.  In BrightSource's case, the company will have to spend over $20 million just for desert tortoise habitat compensation because of the high quality of the habitat it chose to build upon.   First Solar can expect similar costs, if its Stateline project is approved.

Part of the  desert currently being bulldozed for the ISEGS project.  First Solar's Stateline project would be built immediately beyond the hills in the background.


  1. Only decentral solarprojects make the energy sustainable. The european desertec think in the same way like first. But in the sahara countrys nobody resist at this time.

  2. BLM has told me that this will appear in the Federal Register in the next 30 to 45 days. I asked them if they saw any problems with this after the undercounted numbers of tortoise for the recently approved Ivanpah project, adjacent to Stateline. BLM told me that the area is already disturbed by the Ivanpah solar electric project so this would be a good place now. They are using the cumulative debate to support the Stateline project, not oppose it...

  3. Thanks Kevin...seems like the BLM had contradictory assessments if they were arguing that Ivanpah should be built since there are other applications for the Valley, and now that Ivanpah is underway it becomes the reason the other applications should be approved. I'm not sure writing off the rest of the viable habitat because one section is destroyed is sound. Seems a bit arbitrary...and capricious.


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