Western Watersheds Project Stands Up Against Ivanpah Project

The non-profit Western Watersheds Project (WWP) filed a legal challenge against the Department of Interior's approval of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System.  The challenge is the second lawsuit to be filed against Interior's approval of Ivanpah, a project currently under construction by BrightSource Energy on over 5 square miles of public land and pristine Mojave Desert habitat.  According to WWP's Michael Connor: “No project can be considered clean or green when it involves destruction of habitat for a species listed under Endangered Species Act on this scale.  The Department of Interior is tasked with siting energy projects in an environmentally sound manner. Instead it is allowing thousands of acres of important desert tortoise habitat to be bulldozed when there are alternative ways of generating power.” Western Watersheds Project points out that the Department of the Interior's "fast-track" approval of the Ivanpah Solar project resulted in

Desert Tortoise Monitoring Report Available

The Desert Tortoise Recovery Office released the draft Range-wide Monitoring of the Mojave Population of Desert Tortoise: 2010 Annual Report .   The surveys of key desert tortoise habitat revealed higher densities of tortoise in some areas than were observed in previous years, although the report judges that for 3 of the monitored areas, the densities are consistently high.  However, because of refinements in the survey techniques and resources available for the surveys, accurate population trends cannot be established from the surveys yet. According to the draft report, tortoise density in the Ord-Rodman critical habitat unit was 7.5 animals per square kilometer.  The surveys in 2008 and 2009 noted a density of 6 per square kilometer.   Surveys in the Ivanpah critical habitat unit observed only 5 tortoises, resulting in an estimated density of 1.1 tortoise per square kilometer.  This is significant because construction crews for the nearby Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System--bei

Solar PEIS Public Meetings Announced

The Department of the Interior and Department of Energy have announced a series of public meetings during which concerns about the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement   (Solar PEIS) can be expressed.   The Solar PEIS outlines Washington's plan to site renewable energy development on public lands throughout the American southwest.  The plan could impact hundreds of square miles of pristine desert habitat, including large plots of land in the Mojave Desert.  You can access the State-specific chapters for the PEIS at the Desert Protective Council website or the Solar PEIS website . Below is a list of the public meetings. Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 1:00pm:  Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC Downtown, 815 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005 Monday, February 7, 2011 at 7:00pm:  Imperial County Admin. Center, 940 W. Main Street, Suite 211, El Centro, CA 92243 Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 7:00pm:  Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, 44-600 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells,

Endangered Lane Mountain milk-vetch: The Push for Critical Habitat

The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating critical habitat for the rare Mojave Desert plant--the Lane Mountain milk-vetch ( Astragalus jaegerianus )--although off-highway vehicle enthusiasts have protested the move.   If the proposal is enacted, it would be the final stretch in a long road by conservationists to win critical habitat protection for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch.  The plant occurs in only 4 places, and it can survive for years underground thanks to a taproot that extracts whatever moisture is available deep underground.  According to the USFWS, two of the 4 known populations are in decline, and all of the remaining plants are threatened by overlapping demands for the habitat. Fort Irwin (National Training Center) expanded southward in 2001, so two primary pockets of the plants are on land managed by the US Army.  Fort Irwin has implemented an integrated land management plan that sets aside areas of the base for conservation, keeping them safe from training m

There is an alternative to bulldozing pristine desert...

Someone responded to my last blog post with concern that I did not identify alternatives to utility-scale (large) solar power facilities in the middle of the desert.  Although I did try to explain the optimal solution (distributed generation, using rooftops, installing panels over parking lots, or using other spaces in our cities), there is a paper that discusses this solution in-depth (and with much more expertise!).  The paper, " Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California," was written by energy expert Al Weinrub, in collaboration with the Sierra Club and the Local Clean Energy Alliance.  Community Power by Al Weinrub

Green vs Greed: Disentangling Environmentalism from a False Dilemma

The Sierra Club's legal challenge against the Calico Solar power project drew some criticism, with many describing the situation as "Green vs. Green."  This is not a surprising reaction since the headlines depict the situation in simple terms: environmentalists opposing the solar energy they have been demanding.  Although the Sierra Club's petition in California's Supreme Court represents the first serious challenge from a national environmental organization against a solar energy project,  environmentalists have opposed other forms of renewable energy in the past.  The difference between renewable energy and "green" energy has become ambiguous as many corporate and political interests begin to don green masks and demand unwavering support from Americans looking for a solution to our world's environmental woes.   Distinguishing between green and greed is crucial if environmentalists want to adhere to their basic principles--advocating for a clean en

Why Solar Power Does Not Belong in Pristine Desert

Mr. Conrad Kramer wrote an excellent op-ed in the San Diego Tribune explaining why putting massive solar power facilities in the middle of the desert does not make sense.  The piece draws from examples of poorly sited project in the Mojave's sister, the Colorado Desert to the south.  It's worth a read. The argument that solar energy projects should be sited in the desert where there is more sun does not hold water. Electrical transmission of power from the distant desert to the urban areas is a highly inefficient process. Ten to 15 percent of the electricity will be lost, offsetting any slight increase in solar power from the desert sun over San Diego sun. From the San Diego Union Tribune Why not solar power in the desert? Here’s why By Conrad Kramer Thursday, January 6, 2011 at midnight We’ve all grown up in love with the idea of renewable energy helping to reduce our negative impact on the planet. So now that renewab