Showing posts with the label Calico Solar

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.

BLM Discards Land Donated for Conservation

The Bureau of Land Management decided that land donated to the Federal Government for conservation purposes by The Wildlands Conservancy could be bulldozed for the Calico Solar power project.  The Wildlands Conservancy vocally opposed the proposal to build an energy project on land that it purchased and donated to the American public.  The BLM's decision disregards this opposition, and promises from State and Federal leaders--including President Clinton, the Vice President, and the Department of the Interior--that the goodwill of the donation would be honored and the lands preserved for future generations, according to a submission by the Conservancy to the California Energy Commission. The Calico Solar power project will destroy nearly 6.5 square miles of desert habitat, displace at least 22 endangered desert tortoises, and potentially drive a rare desert wildflower to extinction. The current project layout still includes some land donated by The Wildlands Conservancy.  The BLM&

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

Calico Solar Project "Cut in Half"

There is a lot of press on the California Energy Commission's (CEC) preliminary approval of Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project.  The press is portraying Tessera Solar's project as being halved by government authorities or "crazy hippies" who are trying to save the desert tortoise instead of building a larger solar power plant.  What most people just now entering the debate do not realize is that Tessera Solar's project is actually proposed for public land, and will receive taxpayer-backed financing in the form of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds. Plenty of commentators will have you believe that Tessera Solar is being wronged by the government, but consider that the company is basically dependent on government handouts to make a profit, and its profit model is based on bulldozing pristine American wilderness.   And to add insult to injury, we could generate solar energy from the rooftops of our homes, parking lots, or the tops of comm

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--

Save Sea Turtles; Kill Desert Tortoises

The California Energy Commission (CEC) made two decisions this past week that will contribute significantly to the decline of the ecological health of the Mojave Desert.    In the first decision, the CEC gave final approval to BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System.  In the second, the CEC issued a proposed decision to approve the Calico Solar power project, subject to a 30 day public comment period.  Unless the CEC is persuaded to rethink its position during the comment period, the Calico project will be approved. The CEC Presiding Members determined that despite the significant ecological damage these large solar sites would impart on the Mojave Desert, Californians thirst for "green" energy is more important.  The CEC brushed aside pleas that solar panels can be deployed on roof tops, or that these large solar plants would be better off if they were put on already disturbed agricultural land.  Instead, bulldozers will begin cutting into ancient

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

Bulldozers on the Horizon for Ivanpah; CEC Acknowledges Tortoise Density in Calico

Ivanpah Update: Check out Chris Clarke's Coyote Crossing for a photo sent to him by Basin and Range Watch.  It appears that BrightSource Energy is beginning to mark the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating Site in the Eastern Mojave Desert for construction.  The Presiding Member's Proposed Decision has not yet been finally approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), but we know that BrightSource Energy will be rushing to beat the clock once the approval is made final. In order to qualify for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds, BrightSource must break ground on the project before the end of the year.  But before the company can break ground, it must identify and relocate desert tortoises on the site.  This might explain the seemingly premature placement of construction markers on the site. Calico Solar Update: The 18 August evidentiary hearings are further proof that Tessera Solar's Calico Solar power project should not be approved by the CEC.  Thi

Calico Solar Mitigation Costs Mounting

In bad news for Tessera Solar LLC, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) increased its recommendation for Desert Tortoise mitigation levels required if the company's Calico Solar site is approved.   As explained in previous posts, mitigation costs are the conditions imposed on energy companies that want to build on public lands that will result in significant harm to the environment.   The proposed Calico Solar site could result in the relocation and likely deaths of as many as 132 endangered desert tortoises if the site is approved and built, and biologists have deemed the site to be of high ecological value. The California Energy Commission (CEC) and CDFG previously assessed that Tessera Solar should pay over 50,000,000 dollars in mitigation costs for the projected damage done to the tortoise population, assuming the site is approved.  This cost is determined by the number of acres of suitable tortoise habitat that the energy company will have to purchase and set as

Desert Expert: Find Another Site for Calico Solar

Mr James Andre, an expert in desert research who Tessera Solar sought to ban from the Calico Solar evidentiary hearings, submitted a written brief to the California Energy Commission (CEC) in which he recommends that State and Federal agencies provide incentives to Tessera Solar to find a less harmful location for the energy project. One of the most poignant portions of the brief submitted to the CEC commissioners reminds them of their burden to avoid shortcuts, and think of policy solutions that can accommodate the competing demands of "clean" energy and a sustainable and healthy Mojave Desert ecosystm: Mr. Andre wrote: "As the decision-making body for this and subsequent utility-scale solar energy projects, the Commission becomes our representative to future generations." Mr. Andre argues that the Calico Solar site is of high ecological value for several reasons that represent his expertise in botany: Tessera Solar's survey method for the White-margin

Calico Solar Decision May be Pushed Back

The California Energy Commission (CEC) just posted notice that it will be continuing evidentiary hearings on 25 August, which will likely push back its 24 August deadline to issue the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision, per my previous post .   It's not clear how much longer it will take for the CEC to wrap up the evidentiary hearings and issue the proposed decision, but the CEC is under pressure to make a decision soon since Tessera Solar would need to break ground by the end of the year to qualify for public financing under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Correction to Record: Botanist Did Testify

I need to correct the record on this blog.  In two previous posts ( 7 August and 12 August ) I updated you on the evidentiary hearings for the Calico Solar power project, in which the company proposing the project--Tessera Solar--sought to bar the testimony of a respected desert botanist named Jim Andre.  The company argued that he signed a confidentiality agreement when he helped other experts understand how to spot rare plant life on the proposed Calico solar site. I had downloaded and reviewed the transcripts for the 4 and 6 August hearings and concluded that he did not testify since he was not among the witnesses in those hearings.  I assumed that Tessera Solar had succeeded in buying the silence of the public's natural resources expert.  However, the California Energy Commission just posted the transcripts for the 5 August hearing, at which Mr. Andre did in fact testify, despite the objections of Tessera Solar. This comes as quite a relief since the energy company's at

What will happen to desert tortoises relocated from solar sites?

I had previously posted on studies investigating the effectiveness of translocating desert tortoises to other parts of the Mojave Desert to take them out of "harm's way."   In 2008, Fort Irwin began relocating tortoises from Mojave Desert habitat that would soon become part of the base's training area.  The full Fort Irwin report on desert tortoise mortalities from base activities indicates that 200 desert tortoises were killed and 6 were injured in 2008, the vast majority of those were translocated tortoises. The report was provided to the California Energy Commission (CEC) as evidence to be used in the CEC's assessment of the proposed Calico Solar power project .  If the solar project is approved, Tessera Solar LLC--the company proposing the project--would likely translocate dozens of tortoises currently inhabiting the area.   Based on the Fort Irwin translocation experience, the approval of large solar projects is essentially a death sentence for tortoises.

Calico Solar Decision Imminent; Evidentiary Hearings Exclude Respected Botanist

The California Energy Commission (CEC) stated during the early August evidentiary hearings for the Calico Solar power project that they planned to issue a decision on the project by the 24th of August.   As noted in previous posts ,  the Calico Solar project would consume 8,230 acres of prime desert habitat, and kill dozens of endangered desert tortoise and Mojave Fringe-toed lizard, and probably disrupt a wildlife corridor.   The site would also impact loggerhead shrike, a nearby Golden Eagle, LeConte's thrasher, and several special status plants, such as the white-margined beardtongue, small flowered androstostephium, Utah vine milkweed, and foxtail cactus.   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 18th. During the evidentiary hearings addressing biological resources, Tessera Solar (the company proposing to build the Calico Solar project on publi