Showing posts with the label CEC

BLM approves Calico Solar Power project; CEC Decision Pending

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the 7.2 square mile Calico Solar power project, which will kill or displace at least 22 desert tortoises, and jeopardize the future of a rare desert wildflower called the white margined beardtongue.  The California Energy Commission is expected to issue its approval for the project later this month.  In other news, construction workers at the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert have found 17 desert tortoises so far.  Most of the tortoises will likely lose their homes (burrows) as the crews continue to bulldoze the desert habitat for facility, which will be operated by BrightSource Energy.

How Many Desert Tortoises at Ivanpah?

At least a dozen tortoises have been discovered at the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System site already, and the project has only broken ground on an access road.  The project, proposed by BrightSource Energy and recently approved by the Bureau of Land Management, will destroy 5.6 square miles of desert habitat for a 370 MW facility. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initially estimated that 32 desert tortoises live on the site and would require translocation from the site.  If the construction crews have already encountered nearly half that number when a substantial portion of the project site has not even been touched, the initial USFWS estimates are likely inaccurate.  Therefore, the impact of the Ivanpah Solar project may have been improperly assessed in the BLM's and California Energy Commission's environmental reviews.  As mentioned in a previous post , the impact of the project on the long-term viability of the endangered species has likely been downplayed

CEC Flaunting Endangered Species Act Obligations?

The petition filed by Basin and Range Watch asking the California Energy Commission (CEC) to reconsider its decision on the BrightSource Energy Ivanpah Solar power project raises new information regarding the potential impact of the solar project on the survivability of desert tortoises.  The CEC approved the project earlier this month based on the assumption that a translocation plan and mitigation funds could offset the likely loss of endangered desert tortoises.  Such mitigation funds were designated for the purchase of land elsewhere in the Mojave Desert to be set aside for tortoise conservation. Genetically Significant Tortoise Population In Decline The Basin and Range Watch petition highlights new information from the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) biological opinion for another proposed project in the Ivanpah Valley that charactierized the tortoise population in the area -- identified as the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit--as the least abundant of all of the tortoi

Basin and Range Watch Petition Under CEC Consideration

The California Energy Commission (CEC) announced today that it will consider a petition for reconsideration regarding the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System by Basin and Range Watch .  If the CEC grants the petition--which it will review at a 26 October meeting--the CEC will have to schedule an additional hearing within 90 days to consider whether or not it needs to change its decision with regard to the Ivanpah project.  The CEC approved the Ivanpah project earlier this month, but Basin and Range Watch is arguing that the approval does not give sufficient consideration to the long-term effect the project will have on the health of the desert tortoise population in the Eastern Mojave Desert.  The desert tortoise population found in the Ivanpah Valley is genetically significant, and the project would disrupt a linkage that allows genetic exchange that is important to the species' long-term survival.

Imperial Valley Solar Project Receives Final Approval

Tessera Solar LLC's Imperial Valley Solar project was granted final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC) today.  The decision marks an uncertain step forward by the State of California, and pending approval of the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal government, for one of a series of industrial-scale solar projects that will begin to degrade the health of California's desert ecosystems.   Imperial Valley itself will consume 6,140 acres of desert habitat in Southern California, which hosts threatened Flat-tailed Horned Lizard, Peninsula Bighorn Sheep foraging area Native American cultural sites of historical significance. The CEC is approving the project with the use of a technical loophole called "Override Findings," which is the government's way of acknowledging that the project is going to impose significant damage on biological and cultural (Native American) resources, but the CEC does not care.  I have spent a lot of time on this blog talkin

Destruction in Ivanpah Begins; Future of Tortoise in Doubt

Billed as a progressive project to replace carbon emitting coal plants with solar power, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (known as Ivanpah SEGS) has been approved by the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   The Ivanpah project is the product of years of false advertising and bureaucratic acrobatics that neglect to admit the true costs of industrial-scale solar energy.  The project likely will displace or kill approximately 30 desert tortoises according to a BLM report, degrade a critical genetic linkage that helps to sustain a healthy desert tortoise population across the Mojave Desert, and destroy thousands of acres of ancient creosote scrub habitat with a high density of rare desert wildflowers.  So why was it approved?  According to the CEC and BLM, the projects significant environmental damage would be mitigated by the removal of desert tortoises before construction, and the purchase and conservation of habitat elsewhere in the Moj

Is Utility-Scale Solar Power Actually "Green" Energy?

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are set to approve several utility-scale solar power projects this year, there is one question energy companies do not want to answer.  Can we meet our energy needs with solar energy without destroying as much of the environment as mountain-top coal mining or deep sea oil drilling?   California wants to meet 33% of the State's energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020.  According to CEC estimates, energy companies will need to seize nearly 128,000 acres of land in order to produce enough solar energy to meet the 33% requirement.  That is equivalent to approximately 200 square miles.    The majority of the projects that the BLM and CEC are considering are proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California.  Many of these proposed sites are on public land . If we were to meet 100% of California's energy needs through utility-scale solar, it w

Mohave Ground Squirrel Study Plan Due in October

The California Energy Commission (CEC) held expects to receive a proposal to study Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat connectivity from researchers by 15 October.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel is a threatened species that is found only in the western Mojave Desert, and lives in habitat being fragmented by urbanization, transportation corridors and now energy development. Solar Millennium sought to build the a large solar power installation near the town of Ridgecrest that would have destroyed the Mohave Ground Squirrel's habitat.  The CEC opposed the project on the grounds that its ecological impact would be too significant, so Solar Millennium is planning to conduct a multi-year study of Mohave Ground Squirrel activity in the area to identify where in the area it could build an industrial operation.  The company's researchers will present their study plan by October 15th. The CEC also revealed, however, that the Public Interest Energy Research Program is also starting a much wid

CEC Requesting Reliability Data from Tessera Solar

The California Energy Commission (CEC) requested that Tessera Solar LLC submit detailed logs on the reliability of its "Suncatcher" solar technology,  potentially reflecting doubt about the effectiveness of the company's proposals.  According to transcripts of a 20 September CEC hearing, the CEC Staff believed that Tessera Solar should be required to submit reliability data in order to be allowed to proceed with its Imperial Valley Solar project, which is proposed for over 6,000 acres of California Desert habitat.   Tessera Solar is the same company that is also proposing to bulldoze another 4,600 acres of the Mojave Desert for the Calico Solar power project . Both the Calico Solar and Imperial Valley Solar projects would utilize the "Suncatcher" technology.  Each Suncatcher resembles a giant satellite dish that would harness solar energy.  This technology is not as tested as parabolic technology selected for other solar projects since the Suncatchers involve

Tessera Solar Project Could Kill 18 Tortoises for 60 MW

The California Energy Commission's (CEC) preliminary approval of Tessera Solar's Calico Solar power project would permit the company to build in some of the most sensitive and highest quality desert tortoise habitat available in the area.   The CEC Commissioners could have chosen a less destructive layout that avoids the highest quality habitat, but instead approved the more destructive layout, known as "Scenario 5.5."  For 60 extra megawatts, the CEC is permitting the potential loss of 18 extra tortoises. Two Calico Solar Layouts Presented to the CEC Scenario 5.5 : Megawatts: 663.5 MW Acres: 4,613 Estimated tortoise disturbance: 22 tortoises (not including tortoise eggs) Scenario 6 : Megawatts: 603.9 Acres: 4,244 Estimated tortoise disturbance:  4 tortoises If given final approval, "Scenario 5.5" would kill or displace at least 22 desert tortoises, according to a US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate.   Scenario 6--the slightly smaller layout--

Cultural Injustice at Blythe Solar Power Project Site

Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch commented on my previous post on the Blythe Solar power project that, in addition to the environmental damage Solar Millennium will do with its Blythe project, the company will also bulldoze over a thousand important Native American points of significance on the site.  So it is even more unfortunate that the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the site.  You can read a continuation of this discussion on Chris' Coyote Crossing blog and the Basin and Range Watch site.

Solar Millennium Site Approved; 21 Million in Mitigation Costs

One of the largest solar sites currently under review by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--the Blythe Solar power project--received final approval today.  The site will disturb at least 7000 acres of habitat in the Colorado desert in Southern California, making it the largest site to be approved this year.  The project will destroy sand dune habitat for the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard (at least 57 were spotted on the site), bighorn sheep foraging grounds, and nesting areas for the burrowing owl. The Blythe Solar project, which is proposed by Solar Millennium LLC and is sited on public land just west of Blythe, would produce 1000MW of energy.  However, because the Blythe Solar power project will be sited on sensitive habitat, Solar Millennium will pay at least $21,000,000 to mitigate for environmental damage.  Solar Millennium may elect to pay these funds to the Renewable Energy Action Team's (REAT) mitigation fund , which will be put toward conservation in other p

Abengoa Solar Approved; Calico Solar Submits Revised Layouts

Two solar companies. Two sites.  Two different outcomes.  The California Energy Commission (CEC) announced today that the Abengoa Solar power project--which will be located on former agricultural land--will be granted its license to start construction this year.  Abengoa Solar is sited on private land that is not nearly as ecologically sensitive as the site chosen by Tessera Solar LLC for its Calico Solar power project. The CEC sent Tessera Solar back to the drawing board earlier this month after it deemed much of the Calico site to contain high quality desert tortoise habitat.  In response to the CEC request, Tessera Solar just submitted 6 options for reduced footprints seeking to alleviate the CEC's concerns.  The original layout probably would have displaced or killed over 100 desert tortoises. Unfortunately only one of the recently proposed options entirely avoids the highest quality habitat ("scenario 6", screenshot below taken from Tessera Solar submission to t

Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems. The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.   California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy

Calico Solar Workshop Scheduled for 9 September

For those following the proposed Calico Solar power project (see previous post ), the California Energy Commission scheduled a workshop for 9 September at 10AM.  Even though the actual workshop is held in Sacramento, members of the public can tune in by dialing in via telephone or computer.  Just follow the instructions on the September 9 notice posted on the CEC's Calico Solar site .  The purpose of the workshop will be to discuss potential alternative layouts for the Calico Solar power project site.  Depending on the issues discussed at the workshop, a revised layout may be presented to the CEC during the Committee Conference scheduled for 20 September.

CEC Orders Calico Solar Back to the Drawing Board

According to a notice posted on the California Energy Commission (CEC) website, the Commission "cannot recommend approval of the Calico Solar Project as proposed" by Tessera Solar LLC because of the "scope and scale" of the environmental damage that the project would do to high quality Mojave Desert habitat.   The CEC's decision is an important message to energy companies that hastily choose to build large scale projects on pristine public land, and will hopefully encourage other energy companies to select sites that will not have such high impacts on ecologically sensitive land. As noted in previous posts, there are thousands of acres of other suitable energy sites available in Southern California, to include already disturbed land.  Tessera Solar's choice to propose an 8,000 acre energy project in the Central Mojave Desert that is home to over a hundred endangered desert tortoises was a poor one.  The CEC should be applauded for recognizing the value of

Calico Solar Decision Expected Soon

According to the transcripts for a 25 August California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing for Tessera Solar LLC's proposed Calico Solar power project , the CEC planned to issue a Presiding Member's Proposed Decision this week.  The CEC initially planned to issue a decision earlier in August, but changes to the conditions of certification delayed the decision and prompted additional evidentiary hearings. As noted previously on this blog, the Tessera Solar's Calico project could result in the deaths of over a hundred tortoises, the elimination of dwindling Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat, and further fragment the population of rare white-margined beardtongue, and other special status plants.   Tessera Solar also has not yet identified adequate receptor sites for its desert tortoise translocation. Photo of the Calico Solar project site in the Mojave Desert, taken from the PWA report on the Calico Site hydrology and geomorphic qualities, submitted to the CEC on June 1

Doubts About Desert Tortoise Translocation Plans for Ivanpah and Calico Solar

Hearings held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in late August cast doubt on plans to translocate endangered desert tortoises from the proposed Ivanpah and Calico solar power sites.  According to transcripts from the hearings, desert tortoise experts testified that tortoises moved from the proposed solar sites are more likely to die, and could also do harm to the sites to which they are moved.  According to one biologist, the results of the translocation of 158 tortoises from Fort Irwin resulted in 49% mortality in within months of translocation in 2008, and this year alone 11.6% of the remaining tortoises have died (see correction of previous post ). The hearings raised concerns about the sites selected to receive tortoises translocated from solar energy sites, the potential for the spread of disease, inadequate information, and last-minute changes in the plans: In one example, the expert noted that some tortoises removed from the Calico Solar power project (proposed by Tes

New Report Suggests Energy Siting On Wrong Path

Thanks to our friends at Basin and Range Watch , and Coyote Crossing for highlighting a report compiled by independent experts regarding the impact of energy development on California's deserts.   The report was prepared by the Independent Science Advisors as part of California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).   The DRECP is intended to create a science-based process for reviewing and permitting renewable energy projects in the desert, and would provide a framework for implementing regionally coordinated land acquisition and mitigation to off-set the negative effects of the energy "gold rush" that threatens to turn California's deserts into an industrial zone.    The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), which this blog has previously described , is the multi-agency body that will implement the DRECP. The full report, which you can find at the DRECP website , supports the development of renewable energy sources in order to limit greenhou

Ivanpah Comment Period

The Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is awaiting final approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC).  The CEC issued a Presiding Member's Proposed Decision granting initial approval, but pending a 30-day public comment period, the decision is not set in stone.  You can still submit comments to the CEC regarding the Ivanpah site.  Please see Chris Clark's Coyote Crossing for further information. You can email comments to the CEC at and include reference to " Docket No. 07-AFC-5 ."  For more information, see the CEC's public announcement on this.