Showing posts with the label Ivanpah

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects. Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red ; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow ; and still pending environmental review and approval in Green .  All told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could

NRG Solar Engages in Cover-Up

NRG Solar's Vice President recently expressed to CBS just how ill-informed he is about desert ecology.  In a story about the Ivanpah Solar project , Mr. Randall Hickok described the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah project - which NRG invested in along with BrightSource Energy - as "environmentally benign" and sited on "degraded land" that is "less prone to have wildlife."  Really?  Is that why he had to hire over 80 biologists to displace dozens of endangered species?  Ivanpah Valley hosts an above-averages species richness, serves as a critical habitat linkage for the desert tortoises , hosts pockets of rare plants, and provides a foraging area for desert bighorn sheep and golden eagles. I'm sorry Mr. Hickok didn't bother to read the environmental impact statement for the project.  I would much rather NRG invest in distributed generation and projects on already-disturbed lands, but now I'm not sure they know the difference.  Luckily CBS also in

Ivanpah Mitigation: Net Gain or Loss?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and BrightSource Energy just announced that the energy company will purchase 7,000 acres of desert habitat as "mitigation" to compensate for the destruction caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Although the deal is being presented as the company satisfying the mitigation requirement,  the description of the lands set aside suggests the company fell short of the expectations set forth when the California Energy Commission approved the project in 2010.   The project approval required the company to acquire at least 7,164 acres of suitable desert habitat for conservation "as close to the project site as possible," but some of the lands are likely over 100 miles from the project. I took this picture in 2010 of a construction marker in the middle of what was then pristine desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Just a few months later this landscape was being bulldozed and

BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Update

It has been nearly two and a half years since BrightSource Energy began destroying over 5 square miles of intact desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to build a utility-scale solar energy facility.  After mowing down desert vegetation - some of it potentially hundreds of years old - and installing nearly 300,000 giant mirrors and three "power towers", the company is nearing the point of generating and shipping energy over hundreds of miles of transmission lines to customers far from this corner of the Mojave Desert.  The destruction caused by BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is unnecessary -- during the project's construction, California added more rooftop solar than will be generated by BrightSource, and other companies are building solar facilities on already-disturbed lands. Rare plants, such as the Rusby's desert mallow, Mojave milkweed and Parish club cholla cactus are lost, as are nests of cactus wrens and thrashers, and fora

BrightSource Energy Distorting Reality

BrightSource Energy recently submitted another petition to change conditions of certification set forth by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--which spell out what steps the company must take to  make up for ecological damage caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project.  This time BrightSource is seeking to take advantage of a desert habitat conservation program administered by the California Department of Fish and Game, probably because the company is unable to secure quality desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley area. In its petition to the CEC, BrightSource Energy argues that conserving habitat in the Ivanpah Valley is not worthwhile because human development has limited the value of the area to serve as desert tortoise connectivity.  BrightSource, however, has a record that disqualifies it from making authoritative statements on wildlife issues. Firstly, the company ignored wildlife biologists and built a 5.6 square mile industrial facility on prime desert tor

Climate Hawk Misses the Mark

A fellow climate change activist -- who goes by "RLMiller" on the Twitter -- recently nominated a Los Angeles Times reporter as the " most anti-solar reporter in the mainstream media" in a blog post on the Daily Kos (RLMiller previously levied this criticism against a more deserving recipient -- Fox News ).  The offending reporter, Julie Cart, published an article on how industrial-scale solar facilities built dozens of miles from the nearest county services , impose a financial burden on local governments.  Not only do the counties need to deploy new resources to emergencies (fire, police, medical) where they do not normally occur, they also have to accommodate heavy construction traffic on crumbling roads, increased water consumption where water is scarce, and then tell longtime taxpayers, voters, and residents that they have to put up with a giant, Wall Street-backed industrial behemoth next door that does not conform to the county's original zoning rule

Disentangling Urgency from Foolishness: Exposing the Climate-Terror Paradigm

After 11 September 2001 the country recognized an urgent threat to its security.  The debate prompted by this tragic event is still relevant even after three Presidential elections and eleven years -- how much of our civil liberty do we sacrifice to mitigate this threat?  Military tribunals, library records, torture, and transparency.  We are still questioning compromises of justice and privacy for the end state of security.  This debate will last for centuries, much like the threat. "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."  - Benjamin Franklin Fire fighters at the World Trade Center in 2001. Are we making a foolish sacrifice to mitigate the threat of climate change? Rising seas, extreme and destructive weather patterns, lives lost, property destroyed, and degraded ecosystems.  Climate change is an urgent threat. The toxic cocktail of carbon and other poisons that we have already spewed into the atmosphere has created a climate that will punish us

Conservation Groups Weigh in on Destructive BrightSource Projects

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and NRDC have expressed concerns about BrightSource Energy's choice of project sites on desert habitat, recommending that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reject power purchase agreements (PPA) between BrightSource and Southern California Edison (SCE), according to letters filed with CPUC.  The CPUC was already looking into concerns that BrightSource's projects would sell electricity to the utility company at highly uncompetitive prices when compared to other renewable energy options. BrightSource Energy, which is responsible for displacing or killing hundreds of desert tortoises for its Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert, may have trouble financing and building two of its projects if CPUC rejects the PPAs. Rio Mesa Solar Project Would Batter, Blind and Burn Birds The Sierra Club's submission to the CPUC expressed concern that BrightSource Energy's proposal to build  the massive Rio Mes

Tortoises Handled by BrightSource Facing Hard Times

BrightSource Energy's negative impact on the desert tortoise population in the northeastern Mojave Desert continues to be felt, as tortoises removed from their burrows to make way for bulldozers or other construction equipment continue to go missing or die.   As of August , three tortoises translocated from BrightSource holding pens, and four others recently handled by BrightSource crews have been killed -- at least six of them by coyotes.  The translocated tortoises probably were more vulnerable to predators and other environmental factors after being displaced from their habitat to make way for BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar project.   In May the company reported to the California Energy Commission that six tortoises held in BrightSource's pens went missing, while several tortoises died last year after being attacked by ants in the pens. Biologists have warned that tortoises relocated from their home territory can be more susceptible to predation, may have difficulty find

BrightSource Energy's Plans to Limit Environmental Review Meets Resistance

In an odd legal move, BrightSource Energy is demanding the California Energy Commission (CEC) correct "errors" in the preliminary staff assessment of the company's Hidden Hills solar project .  BrightSource's motion to alter the staff assessment would limit environmental analysis in such a way that improves the company's chances of approval, despite serious concerns about the project's water demand in the overdrawn Pahrump Valley groundwater basin.  The move drew sharp rebuke from the CEC staff and the Center for Biological Diversity. The company's motion suggests they are worried the CEC will either select the No Action Alternative or require the project to use a different technology, such as photovoltaic solar panels.  Among the specific requests in the motion, BrightSource Energy asks that the staff assessment 1.) define the project's objectives in a way to meet the company's own preferred criteria, 2.) limit analysis of alternatives to techn

Solar Trends Show Wildlands Sacrifice is Not Necessary

Solar energy is a rapidly growing piece of the energy pie necessary to kick our habit of dirty fossil fuels, but trends in solar energy growth so far, and an abundance of suitable spaces for solar panels in our cities and on already-disturbed lands suggests there is no need to sacrifice our open wildlands.    Making Progress Without Desert Destruction Solar energy generation has grown to over 5,100 megawatts in the United States according to GTM research -- enough to replace roughly nine Reid Gardner coal power plants. How did we reach this goal?  A good chunk is from rooftop solar, while most of the larger solar facilities contributing to this number were built on already-disturbed lands.  Most utility-scale projects that are destroying desert wildlands, such as BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, are not included in this number because they are not yet plugged into the grid. Looking to Already-Disturbed Lands Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency made a ma

Feds Signal Approval for Project Despite Incomplete Research

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