Desert Calico

A Desert Calico flower blooming on the site of Solar Millennium's proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project. The site is mostly creosote shrub habitat, with a desert wash crossing much of the area.  Biodiversity on the site is high, with desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel, loggerhead shrike, and various flowering plants.

Are Environmental Groups Acquiescing to First Solar's Desert Sunlight Project?

The Department of Interior last month released the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for First Solar Inc's Desert Sunlight solar power project.  After a final public review of the EIS, the Department of Interior will decide whether or not to grant approval to the project.  According to the EIS, it appears that Washington will give the green light and even use taxpayers' money to finance First Solar's plans to destroy 4,176 acres (nearly 6.5 square miles) of desert habitat, including some desert tortoise critical habitat.  Although national environmental groups have been following these massive solar projects closely, they have been relatively silent about their impacts.  A First Solar representative claimed earlier this year that the company had the support of environmental organizations.  What role does such behind-the-scenes support play, and how does this impact Department of Interior's decision? Desert Sunlight a Replay of Ivanpah? Despite having the op

Leave Me Alone

A desert iguana on the site of the proposed Calico Solar power project in the central Mojave Desert, peering back at the photographer from the shade of a creosote shrub.  The habitat on the site is pristine, and hosts desert tortoise, a rare desert flowering plant known as white-margined beardtongue, and the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard. The Calico Solar power project would be built by K Road Power, pending re-evaluation of environmental impacts by the Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission due to modifications made to the proposal.

Spring Blooms

  Pollination in action as a bee visits phacelia (lace-leafed?) in the Newberry Mountains Wilderness Area of the Mojave Desert.

Revised Biological Assessment of Ivanpah Site Underscores Poor Choices

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a revised biological assessment for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, indicating the likely presence of a high density of endangered desert tortoises on the 5.6 square mile swath of public land.  The revised assessment is required because BLM and the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the number of tortoises impacted by the project would far exceed the 38 expected to be killed or displaced by construction and operation.  The assessment provides detailed estimates of the number of tortoises that might be killed,  harassed (marked, handled, etc), translocated (moved a distance away from where it was found), or held in quarantine.  Capture/Collect: BLM now anticipates capturing and collecting about 162 adult tortoises (animals that are 160mm or larger).   At least 60, but as many as 90 non-adult tortoises (smaller than 160mm) will be captured, although this represents only a fraction of the exp

BrightSource Energy's Plans in Trouble--Buyer's Remorse?

BrightSource Energy is offering to reduce its Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System project by 12% in response to concerns about its environmental impacts, but will that be enough?  The company already exceeded the "take" limit established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service since it has displaced at least 49 endangered desert tortoises, as of February.  The project was only approved to displace 36.  According to High Country News , a second tortoise died on the site from heat distress as it attempted to return to its now-destroyed burrow in a bulldozed area of the project. The company now expects to displace or kill at least 140 tortoises if all three phases of the approved project are completed.  BrightSource Energy's 12% footprint reduction is likely inadequate, and an official interviewed by High Country News stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service reserves the right to call "jeopardy" (limiting the project) if the current review determines that i

Hetch Hetchy and the Ivanpah Valley: Preserving Local Values While Meeting Global Needs

In 1913, John Muir found himself confronting formidable forces that sought to entomb a pristine valley he had long fought to protect.  Congress, the White House, and San Francisco's water utility were eager to fill the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite with water that would supply a growing metropolis far away on California's coast.  Muir was an amicable, reasonable and open-minded naturalist, as portrayed in A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster.  He did not fight projects for the sake of obstruction, but for sensible policy. There were other sources of water closer to San Fransisco, he argued, and it was needlessly accepted that the city's growth and thirst should not be tamed or made more efficient. Muir would not relent in his battle to save Hetch Hetchy, even when his own friends betrayed him.  Andrew Carnegie cast Muir's concerns aside and said: "John Muir is a fine Scotchman... but for all that it is too foolish to say tha