Abengoa and Calico Solar Sites Inch Forward

See below for a summary of incremental developments in two Mojave Desert solar projects: Abengoa Solar , which proposed a water-intensive solar project for the Harper Dry Lake area just west of Barstow submitted additional data on their water source--an aquifer deep beneath Harper Dry Lake from which they would have to draw millions of gallons of water in order to cool off their solar plant ( see previous post ).  Abengoa is not the only solar site that would tap precious water supplies. The Beacon Solar project near California City also proposes to tap local ground water, although Kern County is now requiring that Beacon transition to recycled water from the nearby municipality within 5 years of the start of operations.  Beacon Solar will also be required to fund programs that off-set their impact on State waters by preserving ephemeral washes and removing non-native tamarisk from other desert waterways.  Perhaps similar conditions will be requested of Abengoa.  We should know in ea

The Mojave and the American Spirit

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has not yet updated the Ivanpah docket to include BrighSource Energy's proposed changes to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System , but I plan to post a review of any details presented by BrightSource to the CEC.  My blog has been a bit quiet lately, but I just wrote a letter for Congressman Lewis asking him to support the California Desert Protection Act of 2010--which I may post here later--but if you feel inspired to do the same you can find the Congressman's contact information on his website .  I'll leave you with a quote from "The Frontier In American History" written by a historian who assessed that open wilderness fostered the American spirit: "The disappearance of the frontier, the closing of the era which was marked by the influence of the West as a form of society, brings with it new problems of social adjustment, new demands for considering our past ideals and our present needs. .. we shall do well al

"Useless Land"

I recently stumbled across a blog--which is an unabashed cheerleader for unimpeded solar energy development--that criticized opposition to BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, and labeled the Mojave Desert as "useless land" that was perfect for solar energy siting.  The blog obviously did not acknowledge the compromises that need to be made as we pursue renewable energy in California, let alone a basic understanding of the Mojave Desert environment.  Yes, some desert land will need to be developed with utility-scale solar.  But the Mojave is not devoid of life, and many Americans appreciate un-interrupted wilderness.  As for Ivanpah, science clearly shows that the site is significant for its unique desert tortoise population, and occurrences of rare desert plants.    While these counter-arguments are likely not news to regular readers of this blog, I had to overcome my initial shock and remind myself that the "useless land" argument i

Brightsource Attempts to Address Biological Concerns

BrightSource Energy--the company seeking to build a large solar electric generating system in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley--submitted an alternative configuration for its proposed site in an attempt to address environmental impact concerns.  According to a press release on the company's website, the facility would be 12% smaller than the original proposal and would produce 392 MW of energy instead of 400 MW.  The alternative configuration has not yet been posted in detail on the California Energy Commission (CEC) website, but when the details are available you can expect an updated post on this blog. According to BrightSource, the reduced facility footprint would avoid an area of the original site judged to contain the highest density of rare plants, leave the largest ephemeral washes intact, and reduce the need for desert tortoise relocations by 15%.  The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Ivanpah estimated 25 tortoises inhabit the site, but the actual number could be a

San Bernardino County Catching up with Mojave Energy Debate

San Bernardino County's Land Use Services Department and Board of Supervisors are trying to keep up with the  gold rush of the century as various energy companies seek to build vast solar and wind energy projects in the Mojave Desert, the bulk of which lies within County lines.  The County's priorities are predictably economic, but this has led County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt to speak out against the acquisition and preservation of land to off-set the loss of Desert tortoise habitat in Ivanpah, according to an article in the Press Enterprise.  You can read more about the mitigation requirement on my previous post on the subject . The County assesses that the preservation of tortoise land as a mitigation strategy would lock up land and preclude other economic activity. Mitzelfelt and Brightsource seem to favor a different mitigation scenario that does not involve setting aside land, but instead funding tortoise research and existing preservation efforts.  While biologists di

Ivanpah Hearings Underscore Brightsource's Poor Site Choice; Reluctance to Fund Mitigation

I finally got around to reading the transcripts from the 11-12 January California Energy Commission (CEC) hearings regarding the impact of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) on biological resources.  The January hearings underscore the reluctance of Brightsource Energy--the company intending to build the nearly 4,000-acre facility in the East Mojave--to pay for the CEC's request that 8,000 acres be purchased and set aside in perpetuity for the protection of sensitive species, to include the Desert Tortoise and the Rusby's Desert Mallow.   In addition to the acquisition of 8000 acres, Brightsource would also have to pay funds to help manage existing sensitive habitat on BLM land. Brightsource would be expected to pay approximately $20 million dollars for the "BIO-17" (which is the designation of CEC's proposed mitigation plan) efforts to offset the loss of important desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  During the hearing, sc

ORV Damage in Yucca Valley

There is a great editorial in the Hi-Desert Star by Russel Drake drawing attention to off-road vehicle (ORV) damage to a key wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino Mountains to the Mojave Desert.  The land, known as Section 11, was set aside as off-limits to ORVs but signs had not yet been posted when the land was trampled in early December 2009.  The Yucca Valley Town Council still plans to post signage prohibiting ORV use and illegal trash dumping.  The land in question was identified in research used by the Morongo Basin Open Space Group to argue for its preservation.  You can access some of the research on ecosystem linkages on the SC Wildlands website here . Published February 10 on the Hi-Desert Star website: Land under attack is critical to wild animals By Russell Drake Yucca Valley Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 1:49 AM CST When wildlife resource advocate Pat Flanagan told the Yucca Valley Town Council last October that Section 11, a square mile of tow