Who Should Lead Our Renewable Energy Policy?

The Department of Interior plans to make millions of acres of mostly pristine desert land in America's southwest available to energy companies as part of its solar energy development proposal.   Much of this energy development will take place in California's deserts, and threatens to drive rare plants and wildlife to extinction.  The light is shining so brightly on Interior's misguided proposal that we have forgotten a promising effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to build renewable energy on already-disturbed land instead of our treasured open space. There is a need for the Department of Interior to reform its renewable energy siting process, which prompted it to draft its solar energy development proposal, and there is certainly a need to increase America's generation of clean energy.  But where we generate this energy is just as important as why we need to -- preservation of our natural resources.    So why does Washington's premier policy pro

A Glimpse of What is at Stake: New Plant Species

The cavedwelling evening primrose (Oenothera cavernae), a rare desert forb, was discovered in the Ivanpah Valley in 2006, and it is still being studied by botanists.   Desert experts continue to discover new species of plants and reptiles in California's desert, so it is understandable that citizens are concerned about Federal government and energy company plans to bulldoze hundreds of square miles of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, likely wiping out undiscovered or little-understood species. A photo of the cavedwelling evening primrose (Oenothera cavernae) in bloom.  Photo by James M. Andre, copyright 2008. Energy companies plan to destroy over 20 square miles of pristine desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to build three solar facilities-- Stateline and Silver State by First Solar Inc, and ISEGS by BrightSource Energy.  Some environmental organization shave asked developers to move such projects to land that is already disturbed or, better yet, distributed generation (roo

Destructive First Solar Projects Loom Over Ivanpah Valley

Southern California Edison announced this month a plan to buy solar power from First Solar Inc.'s proposed Silver State South solar project.    The "power purchase agreement" gives the solar energy company more confidence that its project would be economically viable.  However, the Silver State South project is proposed for an ecologically important area of the Mojave Desert known as the Ivanpah Valley, which is home to an abundant and thriving desert tortoise population, according to biological surveys of the area, even though the species is declining in the rest of its range.  Biologists have also discovered a new plant species in the area. First Solar has not received Federal approval to build the Silver State South project, which would destroy over 12 square miles of pristine desert.  The Department of Interior approved the smaller Silver State North project--approximately 500 acres--but declined to give the green light to the South project, citing concerns over im

Clock Ticking for Calico Solar Site

K Road Power, the company that purchased the rights from Tessera Solar to build the proposed Calico Solar power project, recently told the Desert Dispatch that they could begin bulldozing the site as early as August.   The Calico site is one of several locations poorly chosen by energy companies for solar development, and is home to a high density population of desert tortoise and a pocket of rare plants found in only a few other spots in the world.  The Sierra Club filed a legal challenge against the State of California for approving the project on such ecologically important land. K Road Power (and its subsidiary, K Road Solar), expect to change the original plan of development to use fewer of Tessera Solar's " Suncatcher " dishes, and more photovoltaic panels.  The change in technology almost certainly will necessitate a new environmental review because of differences in ground disturbance and water flow during rain storms.  The Calico site after a winter rain sh

Center for Biological Diversity Opposes Palen Solar Project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) rejected a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) opposing the Palen Solar power project .  The CEC approved the project, proposed by Solar Millennium LLC for nearly 8 square miles of the Chuckwalla Valley, in December.  CBD argues that the CEC violated California law when it approved the Palen Solar project before the Department of Interior gave its final approval to the project, which will have direct and indirect impacts on critical habitat and wildlife management areas.  The Commission is under immense political pressure to favor energy companies in its decisions, and has been heavily criticized for bending and breaking laws to permit fast-track solar power projects. California State public resources code requires that the State not permit any facility on lands designated for wildlife protection until the land management agency has approved the project.  According to Interior's website for the project, Federal approval has

Two Court Rulings Favor Citizens Seeking to Preserve Deserts

Over the past week, two major court rulings were handed down that vindicate Americans demanding that the government take a wiser approach to land use in California's deserts. Off-Road Vehicles  In the first ruling on 29 January, Honorable Susan Illston of the United States District Court ordered the Department of the Interior to take steps that limit the impacts of off-road vehicle (ORV) recreation on public lands in the West Mojave.  The judge ordered the Department to study and designate new off-road vehicle routes by March 2014, clearly mark routes that are legal for off-road use, monitor the land for signs of illegal ORV use, and provide sufficient enforcement capacity.   ORV use--if not probably checked--causes severe degradation of desert habitat through collisions with endangered species such as the desert tortoise, and the compaction of desert soil that prevents plants and wildflowers from thriving, impacting the entire food chain. The Bureau of Land Management--part o

Senator Feinstein Reintroduces California Land Management Bill

Senator Feinstein reintroduced the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA 2011, S.138) this month, a necessary step in order to put the legislation back in motion after Congress adjourned last year without putting the 2010 version of the bill (CDPA 2010, S.2921) to a vote.  CDPA 2011 is mostly identical to last year's legislation, except that Senator Feinstein removed provisions seeking to streamline the permitting process for utility-scale solar energy projects, a process she has previously criticized, in particular because she believed projects should be sited on already-disturbed or private land. CDPA 2011 will create the much needed Mojave Trails National Monument (941,000 acres), and the Sand to Snow National Monument (134,000 acres), and set aside new wilderness areas throughout the Mojave Desert.  The bill would also add land to Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Death Valley National Park.   One of Senator Feinstein's motivations in proposing the