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Showing posts with the label CEC

Sierra Club Lawsuit Tossed Out by Court; Calico Site in Jeopardy

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The California Supreme Court this month denied a petition by the Sierra Club that challenged the California Energy Commission's (CEC) inadequate environmental review for the Calico Solar power project.  A similar legal challenge by California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) was also thrown out by the court.  The Calico Solar power project was initially proposed by Tessera Solar LLC and approved by the CEC and Department of Interior last year.  Tessera Solar has since sold the project rights to K Road Power (aka K Road Solar), which is proposing to modify the 7.2 square mile project to use more photovoltaic panels to supplement Tessera Solar's disastrous SunCatchers . One of many desert tortoises inhabiting the pristine desert where K Road Power plans to build a massive solar facility.  Photo courtesy of Basin and Range Watch . The court decision is unwelcome news for concerned citizens who point to the Calico site's rich biodiversity and abundant desert tortoise p

Center for Biological Diversity Opposes Palen Solar Project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) rejected a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) opposing the Palen Solar power project .  The CEC approved the project, proposed by Solar Millennium LLC for nearly 8 square miles of the Chuckwalla Valley, in December.  CBD argues that the CEC violated California law when it approved the Palen Solar project before the Department of Interior gave its final approval to the project, which will have direct and indirect impacts on critical habitat and wildlife management areas.  The Commission is under immense political pressure to favor energy companies in its decisions, and has been heavily criticized for bending and breaking laws to permit fast-track solar power projects. California State public resources code requires that the State not permit any facility on lands designated for wildlife protection until the land management agency has approved the project.  According to Interior's website for the project, Federal approval has

Sierra Club Lawsuit Targets Calico Solar Power Project

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The Sierra Club filed a legal challenge against California's approval of the Calico Solar power project, arguing that the California Energy Commission (CEC) rushed the environmental review without full consideration of the impacts on wildlife and without identifying adequate mitigation measures.   The petition--filed with the California Supreme Court on 30 December--represents the first legal challenge by a national environmental organization against a destructive solar facility, setting a precedent that utility-scale solar facilities should not be exempted from the same standards environmental organizations apply to other forms of energy -- wise use of public land and preservation of fragile ecosystems.   The petition lays out arguments that could easily apply to other solar projects proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Tessera Solar LLC recently sold its development rights for the Calico site to K Road Solar LLC ,  but the Sierra Club's ac

Legal Challenge Filed Against Six Solar Projects in California's Desert

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A coalition of Native American and civic groups filed a legal challenge against the Department of the Interior for approving six massive solar power projects in California's desert, alleging that the Department did not conduct adequate environmental reviews and did not properly consult with Native American tribes.  The legal challenge points to several Federal statutes that the Department of the Interior ignored in its "fast track" approval of the solar projects.  The collective intent of the statutes is to ensure that the Federal government fully considers the consequences of its proposed actions -- in this case, providing public land and taxpayer-backed financing to several energy companies so they can build on over 40 square miles of mostly pristine desert habitat and cultural landmarks. The lawsuit challenges the Department of the Interior's review process for the following six solar power projects: BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating

Judge Halts Tessera Solar Project

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns granted an injunction this week that prevents Tessera Solar LLC from moving forward with its Imperial Valley Solar project in response to a lawsuit filed by the Quechan Tribe against the Department of the Interior.  The Imperial project would have destroyed over 9 square miles of Sonoran desert habitat that also held over 400 sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe, including burial grounds. Judge Burns--who was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2003--chided the Department of the Interior  for "gliding" over its statutory responsibility to consult with the Quechan Tribal government before approving the project, which would be built on public land and would have been awarded taxpayer-backed financing.  Judge Burns' order underscored the shallow nature of what the Department presented as evidence of "consultations."  The order summarized letters that the Department sent to the Quechan Tribe, dismissing

Important Week for America's Deserts

Stay tuned this week for a few policy and legal developments that will have an impact on our southwestern deserts, including the Mojave. 1.) Solar Programmatic Draft EIS :  The Department of the Interior is expected to release the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for its program to rapidly site and permit massive solar facilities on public land, mostly in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts.  Once the draft EIS is available,  probably by the end of the week, the Department of the Interior will accept public comments.  One of the key components to watch for are the boundaries of its proposed "solar energy zones," where utility-scale energy projects will be encouraged.  The initial "study zones" proposed late last year included ecologically important sites near the Cady Mountains in the Mojave, and throughout the Chuckwalla Valley in the Sonoran Desert.  Projects already approved for these areas by the Federal government and State of California threaten to disp

California To Begin Charging For Sun Delivery

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In Governor Schwarzenegger's weekly radio address, he complained about the length of time required to permit the Sunrise Powerlink -- a two billion dollar transmission line that is intended to deliver solar energy from California's Imperial Valley to San Diego.  What he neglected to mention is that the Sunrise Powerlink will not carry energy from "green" sources, and it will cost the ratepayer more money.   Yes, utility-scale solar energy will reduce carbon emissions overall, but America's southwestern deserts--treasured for recreation, wildlife, tranquility, and our cultural heritage--will be given away to energy companies, along with taxpayers' money, ignoring a cheaper option. Not So "Green" The Governor boasted about his office's progress in approving nearly 5000 MW of renewable energy.  Unfortunately, most of the utility-scale projects that his office encouraged through the California Energy Commission (CEC) permitting process will bul

Tessera Solar LLC -- Constrained by Noisy Technology?

Tessera Solar LLC -- the company that plans to build two large solar energy projects in Southern California--uses "SunCatcher" technology that has been criticized for its high levels of noise.  Never mind the fact that Tessera Solar's two proposed sites-- Calico and Imperial --would kill or displace endangered species and bulldoze cultural landmarks, once the company installs tens of thousands of "SunCatchers,"  it will quickly earn itself a reputation as a noisy neighbor, as well. Most solar energy companies do not have the same problem that Tessera does, since other forms of concentrating solar are quieter, and photovoltaic panels being the most adaptable since you can put a few on your rooftop.  Tessera Solar LLC invented a technology that is far less pleasant to build next door, which may be why the company prefers to build in the middle of our treasured public lands. Unfortunately, wildlife too can be disturbed by loud noises.  A study of bird life arou

Rice Solar Project Tests the Definition of Wilderness

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At face value, the Rice Solar power project seems much less harmful compared to other solar projects approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), including the destructive Ivanpah, Calico or Imperial Solar projects.  The project is proposed for about 2.5 square miles of mostly privately owned land with low quality desert habitat.  The project could result in the death or displacement of approximately 7 desert tortoises,  a smaller impact compared to the 40 desert tortoises already found at the Ivanpah Solar project site. If it receives final approval, however, the project's small 2.5 square mile footprint will host a giant tower rising 653 feet above the ground, that could project glare comparable to half the brightness of the sun, according to CEC analysis.  The tower and its glare will be visible from 737 square miles surrounding the project.   The project will be visible from four separate wilderness areas. The orange shading depicts the 737 square miles of surroun

CEC Reinstates Calico Project, but Hurdles Loom

The California Energy Commission (CEC) reinstated its approval of Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project, but California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and the Sierra Club are still considering litigation to stop Tessera Solar LLC from building on pristine desert habitat.  Tessera Solar LLC proposed building its Calico Solar project on over 7.2 square miles of public land that is home to a high density of desert tortoises, a rare desert wildflower, and serves as a wildlife corridor for threatened bighorn sheep.  If the project moves forward, Tessera Solar LLC would bulldoze the land and install over 26,000 giant "SunCatchers." Tessera Solar LLC's other project in California is also facing a hurdle due to poor site selection.  The company is proposing to build the Imperial Solar project on over 9 square miles of public.  The Quechan Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior for allowing the project to be built on public land without co

Silent Spring: The Sacrifice of California's Deserts

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By April 2010, the solar rush in California staked claim to dozens of square miles of pristine desert, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) were on the verge of granting approvals despite concerns about how these projects would transform wilderness into an industrial zone.  The BLM and CEC were accelerating the approval process to the detriment of public involvement, in a hurry to make good on promises by State and Federal leaders that our public land would be used to generate  renewable energy was mounting. How Policy Brought the Bulldozers Months earlier in October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and Governor Schwarzenegger announced an agreement between the State and Federal governments to speed up the permitting of solar projects on public land in California.  Ironically, they made their announcement at a solar array on Loyola Marymount University's campus, a perfect example of distributed generation or "rooftop solar."

First Round of Solar Projects Cast Shadow on Future of Desert Ecosystem

The first batch of solar power projects approved by the Bureau of Land Management have begun construction and are expected to fragment and industrialize America's remaining southwestern deserts, blocking wildlife movement and driving some plant and animal species closer to extinction.   Although some projects will be built on land that is already disturbed or on privately owned land, the vast majority are on public land with pristine desert habitat.  Although Federal and State requirements will require measures to lessen the impact on plants and wildlife, the long-term impact of these projects is expected to seriously degrade the ecology of the two primary bio-regions in Southern California--the Mojave and Colorado Deserts.     Summary of solar power projects:     Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Company: BrightSource Energy LLC Project area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles) Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in California

Sierra Club Concerned About Rushed Calico Solar Approval Process

The Sierra Club informed the California Energy Commission's (CEC) that it should not approve the Calico Solar power project given concerns about the impact on desert tortoises on the 7 square mile site.  The Sierra Club objected to the rushed nature of the approval process that did not include adequate opportunities for public input, especially when the revised layout was decided between the CEC and Tessera Solar LLC. According to comments submitted to the CEC and stated during a 22 October evidentiary hearing, the Sierra Club pointed to the unfinished nature of the desert tortoise translocation plan, which the CEC considered sufficient mitigation despite concerns that receptor sites for relocated tortoises would not be adequate.  Also, the fact that construction at the Calico Solar site will begin beyond late October could reduce the ability of biologists to find and relocate tortoises since the tortoises likely will be hibernating. Another very significant point made by the S

CEC Approves Calico Solar Power Project Despite Strong Objections

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) gave final approval for Tessera Solar LLC's 663 megawatt Calico Solar power project.  Dirty solar at its finest, the facility will be built on 7 square miles of pristine desert on public land, home to endangered desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard and a rare plant called white-margined beardtongue.  You can read more about the ecological significance of the site on a previous post covering the testimony of desert expert Mr. Jim Andre. The public land that will soon be destroyed for Tessera Solar's project The Sierra Club issued strong testimony on the CEC's approval of the Calico Solar power project, according to transcripts from the 22 October CEC hearing, noting that the approval process violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Warren-Alquist Act.  The Sierra Club claimed that the CEC's approval would be susceptible to "judicial review and reversal."  So far, no national environment

Calico and Ivanpah Solar Hearings This Week

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) is expected to hear any final opposition to the Calico Solar power project on Thursday, 28 October.  Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project is proposed for over 7 square miles of public land just east of Barstow, California.  The project is eligible for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants and loan guarantees.  The CEC already issued the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision in favor of the project last month, but has to finalize the decision following the end of a 30-day public comment period.  Separately, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is already under initial construction on 5.6 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert, but Basin and Range Watch petitioned the CEC to reconsider its approval of the project.  The CEC will hold a hearing on the petition on Tuesday, 26 October.  Basin and Range Watch noted that the CEC dismissed biological evidence regarding the genetic significance of the tortoise popu