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Showing posts with the label BrightSource Energy

BrightSource Energy Challenges Military Training Mission

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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

Feds Signal Approval for Project Despite Incomplete Research

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The Department of Interior has placed First Solar’s Silver State South solar project on the notorious “fast track” list, which means senior political appointees in Washington probably expect to approve the project within the next year, rushing ahead of studies still in progress to understand how the project will impact desert tortoise habitat connectivity.   According to an initial report obtained by Basin and Range Watch, biologists were slated to begin a full year of data collection this year aimed at understanding whether or not First Solar's project will cut off genetic connectivity between different tortoise populations by destroying a narrow slice of habitat linking two regions of the Mojave Desert.   The researchers are studying nearby swaths of rougher and higher elevation desert terrain for their potential to provide connectivity from the Ivanpah Valley to other regions of the desert -- if they do not serve as a genetic linkage, the First Solar project could deliver a si

Hidden Hills Solar: Chorus of Concern Grows

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As BrightSource Energy's construction hums along at its Ivanpah Solar project site in the northeastern Mojave Desert, the company's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project further north is being scrutinized as the California Energy Commission (CEC) accepts comments on a preliminary staff assessment of the project's potential impacts.  As noted earlier on this blog, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was one of the first to note some serious deficiencies in the CEC's staff assessment, with a focus on the project's demand for scarce groundwater supplies.  Since then, several other parties--including Native American tribes, the National Park Service, Center for Biological Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Amargosa Conservancy--have expressed concerns for water and wildlife,  while Inyo County reiterated its expectation that BrightSource Energy compensate it for millions of dollars worth of increased services needed in the remote corner of California where the

Understanding the Scale of Destruction

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The Ivanpah Solar project being built in the northeastern Mojave Desert will destroy nearly 5.6 square miles of desert habitat when it is completed, an swath of previously pristine desert that is difficult to fathom.  Thousands of creosote bushes, Mojave yucca, cholla cactus, and rare wildflowers. Cactus wrens, thrashers, and burrowing owls.  Kit foxes, and jackrabbits. Rattlesnakes and desert iguanas. And a thriving population of desert tortoises.  All of this is lost in our quest to generate 392 megawatts of solar energy -- electrons that could have been produced more efficiently and responsibly with rooftop solar. [click on image to expand]   The Ivanpah Solar facility creeps across once pristine desert in the northeastern Mojave Desert. Built in three phases, this photo was taken when desert for only two of the phases had been cleared and bulldozed. [click on image to expand] A fraction of phase 2 is visible in this photo, identifiable by the missing vegetation. Further in

Desert Solar Policy Codifies Status Quo

The Department of Interior today released the final version of a policy that will smooth the way for industrial-scale solar energy development on public lands throughout America's southwestern deserts.   Even though Interior weakened environmental protections seen in earlier drafts, and crafted the policy to meet industry demands--essentially putting on paper what is already Interior's de facto policy of allowing solar companies to bulldoze wherever they please--several national environmental groups still applauded the announcement, including the Sierra Club, NRDC, the Wilderness Society, and the national Audubon Society.  Their statements of support for the policy probably represent efforts to put positive spin on what is ultimately an environmental catastrophe for the renewable energy industry and our public lands. Corporate Giveaway of Public Lands The final policy--which is expected to be signed by Secretary Salazar later this year--designates nearly 30,000 square miles

BLM Voices Concerns Over BrightSource Water Use

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BLM sent a letter to the California Energy Commission (CEC) this month recommending stronger measures to mitigate or monitor BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project.  If approved, the project would be built in the Pahrump Valley next to th California-Nevada border, and draw an estimated 227.1 million gallons of water during a 29-month construction period, and 45.6 million gallons each year during operation.  Groundwater is already severely overdrawn in the Pahrump Valley, causing subsidence in the land that may ultimately reduce. the amount of water that can be stored. BLM provided the following photo of large cracks in the land near the proposed Hidden Hills solar site-- an indication of subsidence resulting from overdrawn groundwater. Photo from BLM submission to the CEC. In its submission to the CEC, BLM noted that simply requiring BrightSource to replace extracted water at some point over the expected 30 year life of the project may not be sufficient

BrightSource Solar Project Will Endanger Water Supply in Inyo and Nye Counties

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BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (HHSEGS) is expected to significantly draw down local aquifers in California and Nevada, according to the California Energy Commission, unless the company can buy out local water users.   The solar project would be built on 5 square miles of privately owned land in California's Inyo County, right next to the border with Nye County, Nevada.  The facility would use nearly 45.6 million gallons of water each year for mirror washing and other services during operation, and up to 227.1 million gallons of water during the 29 month construction period.   The CEC's draft certifications would require the company to conduct well monitoring and offset its water draw by purchasing over 53 million gallons each year to restore the Pahrump Valley Groundwater Basin. The facility's water draw could affect desert springs along the historic Old Spanish Trail that used to provide relief to weary desert travelers

BrightSource IPO: Smoke and Mirrors

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BrightSource Energy is planning its initial public offering (IPO) in NASDAQ this week.  This company touts itself as a green messiah bringing us energy from the future, yet its business model is simply unsustainable because it requires vast tracts of land and amounts of water in an ecosystem that already shoulders many public burdens.  And it does not help when they are running into conflict with State and Federal officials. Outdated Way to Harvest Clean Energy Unlike Solar City or Sungevity , BrightSource did not get the memo that the sun shines on rooftops and cities as much as it does on remote deserts.  Investing in BrightSource is like investing in a company making gramophones .  BrightSource Energy's facility design -- thousands of large mirrors focusing the sun's rays onto central power towers that heat up and generate energy -- is an archaic and destructive way of harvesting solar energy that requires years of planning, legal challenges, and new transmission lines.

BrightSource Energy Complains About Due Diligence

BrightSource Energy, while receiving bad press for displacing or killing over 160 desert tortoises at its Ivanpah Solar project, is now complaining that the California Energy Commission (CEC) and US Fish and Wildlife Service are requiring it to conduct thorough bird and bat surveys for its proposed Rio Mesa Solar project.  BrightSource on 27 February filed a document with the CEC objecting to the avian surveys, part of its ongoing protest of the environmental review process.   Officials and citizens have expressed profound concern because the Rio Mesa Solar facility would be built along the Colorado River in a key bird migration corridor known as the Pacific Flyway.  The facility would also be located near the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge , which hosts 288 species of birds.  A past study has indicated high rates of avian mortality at power tower solar facilities, and State and Federal officials are keen to understand whether or not Federally protected raptors and migratory bird

Saving Ivanpah

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2011 recommended that no further large-scale development be permitted in the Ivanpah Valley, warning that destroying more desert habitat in the area could sever or impair a critical linkage between desert tortoise populations, according to its Biological Opinion .  According to the FWS: If development in the Ivanpah Valley severed population connectivity, it would essentially isolate the Eldorado Valley population from the rest of the recovery unit. We recommend that the Bureau amend the necessary land use plans to prohibit large- scale development (e.g., solar energy facilities, wind development, etc.) within all remaining portions of the Ivanpah Valley to reduce fragmentation within the critical linkage between the Ivanpah Critical Habitat Unit and the El Dorado Critical Habitat Unit. This recommendation was issued after the Department of Interior approved two large solar projects (ISEGS and Silver State North) and a high-speed rail line for

Center for American Progress Endorses Destruction of Public Lands; Wilderness Society Distributes Piece in Social Media

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The Wilderness Society appears to support the destruction of public lands, as long as the diesel-guzzling bulldozers are clearing the way for a shiny new solar or wind energy facility.   That is the bottom line of a blog piece written by the Center for American Progress writers Jessica Goad and Joe Romm--and posted by the Wilderness Society on its facebook and twitter accounts--in which Center for American Progress also suggests that Americans do not cherish their desert open spaces. The Wilderness Society's willingness to disseminate the blog piece without raising concerns for the content suggest they find merit in the article. The Center for American Progress is protesting an article by the Los Angeles Times that sheds light on the destruction of the Ivanpah Valley by BrightSource Energy for its 5.6 square mile solar facility.  The LA Times also draws attention to a land rush by solar developers proposing to destroy hundreds of square miles of desert wildlands throughout A

Pressure Mounts on First Solar Projects as Ivanpah Recognized As Crucial Tortoise Habitat

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More conservation groups have expressed support for preserving desert wildlands in the Ivanpah Valley, an early warning signal that First Solar should back away from their ill-sited solar projects there.   Located in the northeastern Mojave Desert and spanning the California/Nevada border, the Ivanpah Valley hosts a robust population of desert tortoises and provides a critical wildlife corridor for this species whose population has declined nearly 90% since the 1980s.  Biological surveys and US Fish and Wildlife Service findings increasingly indicate that First Solar is proposing to build in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the Mojave Desert, and threatens a level of damage that it cannot buy its way out of with "mitigation" as it did with its other projects. In this photo by Basin and Range Watch , a cluster of Mojave yuccas grow in the Ivanpah Valley where First Solar is proposing to build its massive Silver State South solar power project. Basin and Ran

Solar Company Targets Proposed Desert Monument for Industrial Development

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BrightSource Energy is considering another solar thermal facility in the Mojave Desert that, if approved, would fall within or immediately adjacent to the boundaries of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument.  The Monument was introduced in the California Desert Protection Act of 2011, and endorsed by the Obama Administration as lands deserving protection.  The project would be built on ecologically important desert habitat within view of the iconic Amboy Crater and Historic Route 66, and impact lands conserved and donated to the Department of Interior by the Wildlands Conservancy. The area of BrightSource Energy's proposed solar project.  The right-of-way application includes lands within and immediately adjacent to the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. According to an interview with the Press-Enterprise , BrightSource Energy has already entered into talks with a utility company that would buy the electricity if the project is built.  The Bureau of Land Manage

BrightSource Balks at Environmental Concerns

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BrightSource Energy is on the defensive as wildlife officials express valid concerns that its proposal to bulldoze 9 square miles of California desert will kill protected raptors and migratory birds, in addition to concerns about other wildlife and rare plants.   BrightSource proposes to build two new projects that involve thousands of large mirrors called "heliostats" that focus the sun's rays at a central point on top of a 750 foot tall "power tower" to heat a steam generator.  The super-heated air around the top of the tower is likely to "incinerate" eagles and other birds that fly above the facility, according to communication between the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  The other major threat will be the thousands of heliostat mirrors that reflect the sky and cause bird collisions. This artist rendering of the BrightSource Energy's proposed Rio Mesa Solar Electric Generating System shows the

Ivanpah Conservation Initiative Presented to BLM Officials

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Basin and Range Watch members met with officials from the Bureau of Land Management's California and Nevada state offices earlier this month to present the proposed Ivanpah Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which is also supported by the Desert Tortoise Council and Desert Protective Council.  The ACEC is needed to protect biological and cultural resources that would be imperiled by additional solar energy development in the Ivanpah Valley, including a connectivity corridor for the endangered desert tortoise.  As human-induced  climate change challenges desert ecosystems, the genetic connectivity and healthy habitat offered by the Ivanpah Valley will be critical to the survival of many desert species. The productive meeting with BLM, which took place in Reno,  represents potential reprieve for the beleaguered valley in the northeastern Mojave Desert as a coalition of smaller groups and concerned citizens speak up for a smarter renewable energy policy that does not