This is Not Disturbed Land

Recent press articles suggest the energy industry continues its efforts to define the ecological viability of desert habitat in a way that gives it wide latitude to build in some of the most remote corners of the American southwest.
First, the Bechtel corporation told SCPR reporter Caitlin Esch that it should be allowed to bulldoze over 3.4 square miles of desert to build its Soda Mountain Solar project next to the Mojave National Preserve because “[t]here are distribution lines, phone lines, petroleum pipelines, a cell phone tower, a mine, off-highway vehicle recreation area, it’s also permitted for high speed rail."  Apparently some phone lines, buried pipelines, and a cell phone tower in a valley means the rest of the intact habitat is not worth saving.  In other words, Bechtel should be allowed to disturb as much as 2,800 football fields worth of land because some telephone lines already exist in the valley.   The project will also pump over 62.5 million gallons during construction, and 10.2 million gallons of water each year afterward to wash the solar panels.  This will draw from desert aquifers that support springs that support the endangered Mohave tui chub fish and bighorn sheep.

A panorama photo of the site where Bechtel wants to build the 3.4 square mile Soda Mountain solar project next to the Mojave National Preserve.  Photo by Michael Gordon (  See also Basin & Range Watch's site on the Soda Mountain Solar project.
Bechtel is misleading when they reference the Rasor OHV area, which does not impact the actual site of the proposed solar project;  the OHV area may have an impact on the habitat nearby, but it does not excuse the destruction of a neighboring valley.  And the high speed rail - if built - would parallel Interstate 15, and not draw water from the aquifer.

Separately, BrightSource Energy and NRG continue to justify their choice of location for the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah Solar project by describing the Ivanpah Valley as already-disturbed, and in some cases the companies give the false impression that the project was built on a dry lake bed.  Google "Ivanpah Solar" and "dry lake" and you'll see plenty of articles that reference the project as built on the lake bed itself.  The project was actually built west of the dry lake bed on an alluvial fan that provided habitat for a variety of wildlife.

[Click on image to expand] Notice that the Ivanpah Solar project, in red, was not built on the dry lake bed, labeled in green.  Please stop saying that the project was built on a dry lake bed.  Also notice that both the Primm golf course and gambling outpost are less than half the size of the solar project.  BrightSource and NRG nearly doubled the amount of disturbance in the Ivanpah Valley to build their project.
BrightSource and NRG also like to point out that there is a golf course nearby, as if the entire Ivanpah Valley became a sacrifice zone simply because there was some pre-existing disturbance.  However, the golf course occupies less than a square mile of desert habitat - a fraction of the size of the Ivanpah Solar project. 

This photo of a construction marker in the Ivanpah Valley shows the intact desert habitat in spring 2011, before BrightSource Energy bulldozed and mowed down 5.6 square miles of habitat for desert tortoises, coyotes, golden eagles, cactus wrens and rare desert wildflowers.
As I have noted before on this blog, if we applied these corporations' logic to other natural treasures, we would allow ridiculous levels of destruction in places like the Yosemite Valley simply because there are already some roads and hotels there.  Imagine if a resort developer wanted to double the amount of disturbance in the Yosemite Valley to build a new hotel with three high rises and large parking lots - would we permit such destruction simply because there is pre-existing infrastructure elsewhere in the same valley? Absolutely not. 

If Bechtel and BrightSource are confused as to the definition of already-disturbed land, perhaps they can look at the example of other solar projects built on fallow agricultural land, or solar panels installed over parking lots and on rooftops.  Solar is flexible and scalable - there is no reason to sacrifice remote wildlands when more sustainable alternatives exist.


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