BrightSource Energy Challenges Military Training Mission

The Department of Defense has expressed concern that BrightSource Energy's solar "power tower" technology could obstruct military testing and training activities in the Mojave Desert, since the heated towers standing hundreds of feet over the desert could become an attractive target for heat seeking sensors and weapons.  Two BrightSource Energy projects in particular are proposed for desert habitat bordering the US Marine Corps' base at Twentynine Palms, where air and ground live fire exercises are conducted.

The Siberia Solar project would be built just north of the Marine base, but within view of an active training ground.  The project would also be adjacent to the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, a conservation effort to protect desert landscapes and wildlife along the historic Route 66.  The Department of the Interior has shown a propensity to permit energy projects despite environmental concerns in its "fast track" permitting process, but it is not clear if BrightSource will be able to "mitigate" its way out of Department of Defense concerns.  

According to a presentation made by the Department of Defense at the July Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) stakeholders meeting, the area where BrightSource wants to build the Siberia Solar project is labeled as a red zone for solar power tower technology, meaning a project there is "highly likely" to pose an "unacceptable risk to national security." The specific reason given for designating the Siberia area as a red zone is "proximity to live fire range," according to Defense documents posted on the DRECP website.

BrightSource Energy's Siberia Solar project would be built south of Route 66 in the area identified with the purple circle, north of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (light blue area). Another project proposed by BrightSource is the Johnson Valley project, roughly located in the area identified by the green circle. Red zones are areas where solar power tower projects pose a high likelihood of an unacceptable risk to national security, while projects in orange zones pose a medium likelihood.
BrightSource Energy has a second project proposal that could be impacted -- the Johnson Valley Solar project would be built near the proposed expansion area of the Marine base to the east of the blue area in the map above. The area where the project would be built is a mix of "medium" and "high"  likelihood of unacceptable risk to national security.  According to the Final EIS for the Marine Corps base expansion, aircraft would maneuver into the expansion area from the south, possibly flying over the Johnson Valley solar power tower project.

[Click on image to expand]  One of BrightSource Energy's solar power towers under construction in the Ivanpah Valley.  The tower will be taller than the Statue of Liberty, and thousands of mirrors o the ground, each the size of a garage door, will reflect the sun's rays onto the top of the tower.
BrightSource claims that the larger and taller "power towers" provide increased efficiency, but this would seem to only pose a greater risk of interfering with military training in the desert southwest, as the heated portion of the tower would then be visible from farther distances.

San Bernardino County --where both projects would be built -- has made it clear that military concerns will trump BrightSource Energy's profit motive, since a county offcial participating in the DRECP stakeholder process affirmed the County's support for the military training and testing bases.


  1. When have we seen such arrogance and hubris as that shown by BrightSource Energy, or the Obama administration for that matter?

    Woolard and company knew right up front early in the planning process about the military installations in the area, but still persisted in going through with the process, possibly thinking that government planners might weigh the environmental situation higher on the scales than the needs of the military.

    Big mistake.

    We may see the mother of all pork battles about to begin over this. But considering the climate of the Empire's capital today, with profits being made from the never ending drone strikes world wide and other issues relating to defense of the "Homeland," I foresee a big smackdown coming to BrightSource, and to be quite honest about it, one long overdue and one that I personally will enjoy watching.


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