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Showing posts with the label desert tortoise

Ivanpah Mitigation: Net Gain or Loss?

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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.

An Unsustainable Smiley Face
This lapse in the mitigation strategy proves that the Ivanpah Solar project is solar done wrong and far from sustainable.  Rather than destroy intact ecosystems, the compa…

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 foragi…

BLM Signals Approval for Searchlight Wind Project Despite Objections

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last month issued the final environmental impact statement for Duke Energy's Searchlight Wind energy project, signaling initial approval for the company to industrialize nearly 29 square miles of Mojave Desert habitat near the small town of Searchlight, Nevada. Once the Department of Interior signs the record of decision -- expected early this year -- Duke Energy will transform this peaceful corner of the desert with 87 wind turbines (each standing taller than the Statue of Liberty) 35 miles of new gravel roads, and 16 miles of new transmission and collector lines, according to the BLM assessment. Construction will require over 9,000 trips by diesel trucks, and tons of cement and steel.

Potential Impacts on Wildlife Are Extensive
The area targeted by Duke Energy for the project is full of creosote bushes and Mojave yucca that can be hundreds of years old, and is surrounded by the Piute - El Dorado Critical Habitat Unit for the threatened deser…

BrightSource Energy Distorting Reality

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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 tortois…

Conservation Groups Weigh in on Destructive BrightSource Projects

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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 Mesa solar…

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

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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 Mojave De…

Tortoises Handled by BrightSource Facing Hard Times

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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 finding …

Feds Signal Approval for Project Despite Incomplete Research

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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 sig…

Hidden Hills Solar: Chorus of Concern Grows

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As BrightSource Energy's construction hums along at its Ivanpah Solar project site in the northeastern Mojave Desert, the company's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project further north is being scrutinized as the California Energy Commission (CEC) accepts comments on a preliminary staff assessment of the project's potential impacts.  As noted earlier on this blog, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was one of the first to note some serious deficiencies in the CEC's staff assessment, with a focus on the project's demand for scarce groundwater supplies.  Since then, several other parties--including Native American tribes, the National Park Service, Center for Biological Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Amargosa Conservancy--have expressed concerns for water and wildlife,  while Inyo County reiterated its expectation that BrightSource Energy compensate it for millions of dollars worth of increased services needed in the remote corner of California where the pr…

Desert Solar Policy Codifies Status Quo

The Department of Interior today released the final version of a policy that will smooth the way for industrial-scale solar energy development on public lands throughout America's southwestern deserts.   Even though Interior weakened environmental protections seen in earlier drafts, and crafted the policy to meet industry demands--essentially putting on paper what is already Interior's de facto policy of allowing solar companies to bulldoze wherever they please--several national environmental groups still applauded the announcement, including the Sierra Club, NRDC, the Wilderness Society, and the national Audubon Society.  Their statements of support for the policy probably represent efforts to put positive spin on what is ultimately an environmental catastrophe for the renewable energy industry and our public lands.

Corporate Giveaway of Public Lands The final policy--which is expected to be signed by Secretary Salazar later this year--designates nearly 30,000 square miles of d…

Oil Industry to Profit from Ivanpah Solar Project

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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.

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 tortoise populations and destruction of prime Mojave Desert wildlands. But then again, what would Enbridge care? They are responsible for a good…

Sierra Club Joins Call for Mandatory Wind Energy Guidelines

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The Sierra Club informed the Department of Interior in January that it supports mandatory guidelines for the wind energy industry that would protect wildlife,  strengthening its previously expressed position that only favored voluntary guidelines, according to the March issue of the Desert Report.  The move is a positive sign that the Sierra Club hopefully recognizes that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the destructive potential of any energy source -- whether that is coal, natural gas, wind or solar -- and that the conservation community should protect our natural resources instead of facilitating their destruction for the benefit of corporate profit.  The Sierra Club's letter  follows a petition submitted by the American Bird Conservancy in December asking Washington to establish a mandatory permitting system that will hold the wind energy industry accountable to environmental law.

According to the Sierra Club letter to Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar:
"...the…

Student Art Project Depicts Unwise Burden on Desert Wildlands

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Biologist have expressed concern that the scale of proposed utility-scale renewable energy development in America's southwestern deserts could push various species of plants and wildlife to the brink by destroying or fragmenting large swaths of otherwise ecologically intact wildlands. This energy model ignores the opportunities to build on already-disturbed lands or focus on distributed generation -- such as rooftop solar -- and will ironically compound the challenges wildlife will face as a result of human-induced climate change.  The desert tortoise is an icon of this quandary, and it caught the attention of high school student Halle Rayn Kohn.  In a mixed media piece of art using acrylic paint, sandpaper, and a collage of pictures and magazine cut-outs, Halle's art depicts a species burdened by human energy demands.
The piece was displayed at a high school art gallery, accompanied by a statement that explained the urgent threat of the solar land rush that is threatening to d…

Saving Ivanpah

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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 con…

BrightSource Balks at Environmental Concerns

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BrightSource Energy is on the defensive as wildlife officials express valid concerns that its proposal to bulldoze 9 square miles of California desert will kill protected raptors and migratory birds, in addition to concerns about other wildlife and rare plants.  BrightSource proposes to build two new projects that involve thousands of large mirrors called "heliostats" that focus the sun's rays at a central point on top of a 750 foot tall "power tower" to heat a steam generator.  The super-heated air around the top of the tower is likely to "incinerate" eagles and other birds that fly above the facility, according to communication between the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  The other major threat will be the thousands of heliostat mirrors that reflect the sky and cause bird collisions.

The Rio Mesa solar project would be built on nearly 9 square miles of public and private lands in a migratory corridor for…