Showing posts with the label Silver State

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

More Destruction Looms Over Ivanpah

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working on the final environmental impact statements for two more solar projects in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley, which straddles the California and Nevada border, and the documents are expected to be released this summer.  BrightSource Energy 's destructive Ivanpah Solar project is nearing completion there, but First Solar's proposed Stateline and Silver State South solar projects would destroy another eight square miles of intact desert ecosystem, with the most appalling destruction to occur at the 4.8 square mile Silver State South solar site.  I hope at least one of the projects will canceled altogether or at least substantially trimmed down.  First Solar's reputation as a steward of the environment is at stake, and the company has no reason to ignore Fish and Wildlife Service concerns; the company has successfully built large projects on already-disturbed lands with minimized environmental impacts.  These Ivanpah projects

Sensible Siting

This photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service's flickr photostream is accompanied by a sensible message about renewable energy -- if we keep renewable energy projects on degraded or already-disturbed lands, we can minimize ecological damage as we transition away from fossil fuels.  Photo credit: USFWS/Rachel Molenda Solar Panel   Hopefully this message is heard by decision makers in Washington. At this moment the Bureau of Land Management is considering plans by First Solar to build the Silver State South Solar project on a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage in the Ivanpah Valley, Nevada. Surely there are better places for those solar panels.

BLM Urged to Preserve Ivanpah Linkage

In a rather strong and thorough letter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in November asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reject First Solar's Silver State South solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, reiterating FWS concerns that the project will reduce or eliminate a critical linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  FWS' letter preceded a joint letter submitted in December by eight different environmental groups asking the BLM to suspend approval of any additional projects in the Ivanpah Valley until a conservation plan is in place, indicating that BLM decisions impacting the Ivanpah Valley so far have underestimated its biological importance. FWS Comments on Silver State South Solar FWS's asks the BLM to work with the applicant to modify the layout of the project if it is not possible to reject the project altogether, suggesting the alternatives already analyzed by BLM do not offer a sufficiently wide habitat linkage. Human development to the west,

BLM Takes Another Piecemeal Step in Ivanpah

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late November issued the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for First Solar's Stateline Solar power project, only a month after issuing the Silver State South Solar DEIS -- both projects would be built in the Ivanpah Valley.  The BLM's draft documents lay out a plan allowing First Solar to bulldoze approximately 8 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, but fails to present a credible conservation strategy and overlooks other major developments on the horizon in this corner of the Mojave Desert. This Google Earth image shows the BLM's preferred layout of First Solar's Stateline solar power project, covering nearly 3.4 square miles.  The BLM estimates that the project could kill or displace 32 desert tortoises, although a higher estimate of 88 tortoises is also possible.  Rare plant species likely occurring on the site include Rusby's desert-mallow, Mojave milkweed, and the small-flowered androstephiu

First Solar's Funny Math in Ivanpah

First Solar is moving forward with the environmental review process for the Silver State South project, and is requesting permission to destroy enough desert wildlands to accomodate a 350 megawatt (MW) facility, according to the draft report published by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   But the company only has a buyer for 250MW, and it only has permission from energy regulators to ship 230MW over the transmission lines.   This is significant because the company is proposing to build the project on a very narrow strip of desert habitat that serves as a critical genetic linkage for the desert tortoise, and First Solar appears to be inflating how much of the valuable desert land it actually needs. This is a location in the desert where every acre counts, but the company appears to be ignoring pleas by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other desert experts to preserve this wildlife corridor. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, First Solar has a power pur

First Solar's Silver State South: Wrong from the Start

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this month issued a supplemental draft environmental impact statement supporting First Solar's proposed Silver State South solar facility, which would be built on a narrow strip of desert that has also been recognized as a critical desert tortoise connectivity corridor .  BLM intends to approve a modified layout of the solar project that would destroy up to 4.8 square miles of mostly intact desert wildlands between the small gambling outpost of Primm, Nevada and the Lucy Gray Mountains.  The project layout preferred by the BLM appears to ignore a recommendations by the US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), and Washington is rushing to approve the project before further wildlife connectivity studies are completed. Project Benefits from Washington's Duplicitous Ivanpah Policy The Ivanpah Valley has been subject to contradictory Federal actions and decisions that suggest Washington's land stewardship goals in this corner of the northeastern Moja

Oil Industry to Profit from Ivanpah Solar Project

Enbridge -- Canada's largest transporter of crude oil with projects in the infamous tar sands -- will now profit from a solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, according to Reuters .   Enbridge is buying First Solar's Silver State North project, which destroyed nearly a square mile of ecologically intact desert habitat that serves as a critical genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and other species.  First Solar is also proposing to expand this project with a much larger second phase known as Silver State South .  These facilities use the same type of solar panel that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands. Photo by Basin and Range Watch of the Silver State North project, which bulldozed nearly a square mile of intact desert habitat. Enbridge is proudly touting its purchase of Silver State North as a "green" badge of honor.  It appears to be lost on Enbridge that they are profiting from the isolation of desert torto

More Hurdles for First Solar

Before First Solar commits to building solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, they should take a close look at BrightSource Energy's experience there.  The Los Angeles Times today posted an insightful article on the costs of building a solar energy project on some of the best desert tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert.  Focused on BrightSource Energy's solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, the LA Times describes communications in which BrightSource Energy complains about the costs of relocating tortoises, saying "[t]his truly could kill the project".  Yet it was BrightSource's choice to ignore the warnings of biologists and build on a site noted for the relative abundance of tortoises. The alarm bells are still ringing and the red lights are flashing, but First Solar is proceeding defiantly with the environmental review process for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  Conservationists warn that those project sites also cont

Saving Ivanpah

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

Ivanpah Conservation Initiative Presented to BLM Officials

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

All Eyes on Ivanpah: Will Federal Policy Finally Take Notice?

BrightSource CEO John Woolard told the media that his company's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS) --a 5.6 square mile energy facility being built on public land in the northeastern Mojave Desert--has "the lowest environmental impact of any project in solar." Anybody familiar with the Ivanpah Valley--a beautiful desert landscape blanketed by creosote bushes and yucca, and ringed by rocky spires inhabited by bighorn sheep--knows that his statement simply could not be true.  Mr. Woolard's attempts to conceal the destructive impact of ISEGS are failing since the project has actually become an icon of poor solar siting, representing the dangers of building vast facilities on ecologically intact desert habitat .  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week was confronted with this reality when citizens submitted a conservation plan for the area, and Washington announced a draft policy that could discourage solar development there.  BrightSource Project an I

First Ivanpah Tortoise Released; Future in Doubt

According to the Press-Enterprise , a female desert tortoise was released back into the wild last week after repeatedly attempting to escape from her cage on the site of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, where 127 tortoises remain in captivity after they were cleared from desert that has since been destroyed for the energy facility.  The Press-Enterprise journalist accompanied Federal officials during the release of the tortoise near Clark Mountain in an area north of the solar project.  The remaining 127 tortoises probably will be released after winter.  The negative impact on tortoises is expected to increase, as BrightSource Energy has begun clearing more tortoises from ecologically important desert habitat ahead of the bulldozers. Unfortunately, many tortoises relocated from their original homes are unlikely to survive. Tortoises relocated from a military training site in the Mojave Desert were monitored by biologists, and nearly half of them perished within two

Silver State South Begins Environmental Review

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started the environmental review of the Silver State South solar project, which would destroy or fragment up to 20 square miles of desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Silver State would be built by First Solar Inc, which has also proposed constructing the 3.4 square mile Stateline solar power project nearby. The BLM is accepting public comments and issues to consider as part of its initial scoping period until 31 October 2011.  You can email comments to . Points the BLM should evaluate in its environmental review include: The Silver State South solar project could block a wildlife corridor through the Ivanpah Valley, and particularly cut off an important genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise. Maintaining habitat connectivity is an essential element of the recovery plan for the desert tortoise. The project would destroy desert habitat identified by the Nature Conservancy as " biologically c

Sizing up Ivanpah Valley Destruction

The desert will make anything seem small.  Consequently, I think we have a hard time grasping the enormity of the destruction solar and wind companies are proposing when they choose to bulldoze intact ecosystems instead of building on already-disturbed lands or investing in distributed generation. If you walk across a Mojave Desert valley and find a nice perch on one of the surrounding mountains, you'll overlook a vast expanse of creosote bushes, blackbrush, yucca, and Joshua Trees.  The ecosystem may look harsh, but it is teeming with life -- desert tortoises, bobcat, burrowing owls, bighorn sheep, horned lizards, sidewinder snakes, and kangaroo rats, bees, and specialized moths. When energy companies show up, they see that expanse of nature as a bank account.  The more they build on it, the more money they can put in their pockets.   So when First Solar announced plans to build in the Ivanpah Valley of the northeastern Mojave Desert, it was obvious they had no appreciation f