Can Ivanpah Be Saved?

The Department of Interior issued a Record of Decision this week approving two more massive solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  With this approval, First Solar could begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects as soon as this spring, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the projects could destroy a key habitat linkage for the imperiled desert tortoise.  Conservation groups have asked Interior and First Solar to consider alternative locations for the project, and Defenders of Wildlife in November warned that it may challenge Interior's review of the projects under the Endangered Species Act.

This photo was taken from Metamorphic Hill, looking over the desert habitat that will be destroyed to build the Stateline Solar project.  Further in the distance beyond the dry lake bed, First Solar would bulldoze another swath of intact desert to build the Silver State South Solar project.
There is no good reason why these projects must be built in Ivanpah, but plenty of reasons why they should be built elsewhere.  First Solar picked sites close to transmission lines and secured a power purchase agreement with utility companies without consideration of how these choices might impact our desert wildlands and wildlife, and blind political momentum has done the rest for them. 

Some people argue that the desert ecosystem will be better off with the clean energy generated by these projects, as if there was only a binary choice between clean energy that destroys wildlands and climate change, when in fact solar panels can be just as productive on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.  With just a year or two of tactical patience, First Solar could have found a better place for these solar panels.   The impacts of emissions already generated by humans guarantee negative impacts on all of our wildlands for decades; it is more important that the next step we take is toward clean and sustainable model.  The fact that anybody would insist on the sacrifice of the Ivanpah Valley - a largely intact desert ecosystem that hosts an above averages richness of species - is unreasonable and ignores smarter alternatives.

The Mojave yucca pictured above will be destroyed when First Solar bulldozes over 3.7 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat to build the Silver State South Solar project.

We should be deploying clean energy with the long game in mind, not with some rushed fervor that tramples on our conservation ethic.   Furthermore, Interior's dutiful execution of the President's climate action plan runs in parallel with continued leasing of public lands to coal, oil and gas extraction, pouring salt on the wounds of Ivanpah.


  1. Thanks for the excellent post. As Obama pushes blindly forward with his senseless Destroy All of the Above (aka appease all Wall Street Energy interests) energy "policy", we mourn the losses.....


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