Understanding the Scale of Destruction

The Ivanpah Solar project being built in the northeastern Mojave Desert will destroy nearly 5.6 square miles of desert habitat when it is completed, an swath of previously pristine desert that is difficult to fathom.  Thousands of creosote bushes, Mojave yucca, cholla cactus, and rare wildflowers. Cactus wrens, thrashers, and burrowing owls.  Kit foxes, and jackrabbits. Rattlesnakes and desert iguanas. And a thriving population of desert tortoises.  All of this is lost in our quest to generate 392 megawatts of solar energy -- electrons that could have been produced more efficiently and responsibly with rooftop solar. [click on image to expand]   The Ivanpah Solar facility creeps across once pristine desert in the northeastern Mojave Desert. Built in three phases, this photo was taken when desert for only two of the phases had been cleared and bulldozed. [click on image to expand] A fraction of phase 2 is visible in this photo, identifiable by the missing vegetation. Further in

Desert Solar Policy to Create Key Exclusion Areas -- With a Catch

As part of the Department of Interior's proposed Solar Energy Development Program, some lands outside of the solar energy zones and variance areas will be identified as "exclusion areas" where solar applications will no longer be accepted.  These exclusion areas include some key conservation battlegrounds, including the Ivanpah Valley, lands within the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, and lands outside of the proposed Monument that were donated or acquired for conservation purposes.  From section ES. of the proposed policy: Under the program alternative, the BLM proposes to exclude specific categories of land from utility-scale solar energy development. Right-of way exclusion areas are defined as areas that are not available for location of ROWs under any conditions... The identification of exclusion areas allows the BLM to support the highest and best use of public lands by avoiding potential resource conflicts and reserving for other uses public land t

Clark Mountain

Clark Mountain is an impressive mass towering over the desert, and visible from many parts of the Mojave National Preserve. This photo was taken from the New York Mountains, with Clark Mountain in the distance, across the Ivanpah Valley.

Time for a Change

How much has changed since Michael Jackson's Earth Song video was released in the mid-1990s?  The most sustainable change starts from the grassroots. Not from slogans, mass e-mails, glossy PR campaigns, or Wall Street.

Respect the Soil Crust

Of all nature's wonders that capture our attention, it's easy to take our soil for granted. But a new study reaffirms the importants of cryptobiotic soil crusts.  As the study explains, "organisms fuse with soil particles, stabilizing desert crusts and forming fragile peaks in the soil that influence a variety of processes to allocate important resources." KCET published a great article on these crusts and explaining the important functions they play in desert ecosystems.  These layers take many years to form, and are very fragile.  As we disturb and destroy desert soils, we are turning back the clock on an ecological fabric that could take decades to repair itself. The dark striations on the soil in the center area of the photo is a patch of cryptobiotic crust in the Ivanpah Valley, where First Solar plans to build its Silver State South solar power project.

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

BrightSource Energy Falling Short on Mitigation Measures

Biologists tried to warn BrightSource Energy not to build a massive solar project in the Ivanpah Valley -- an area with a particularly high number of the normally hard-to-find desert tortoise.  The company did not listen, and the company's costly plans to "mitigate" its environmental damage may not do much to improve the recovery of this threatened species.  Now that it has mowed and bulldozed nearly 5.6 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat, the company is now responsible for nearly 400 orphaned or displaced tortoises that have survived the bulldozer blades or were born to mothers that were put in cages during construction. Several tortoises died last year after being attacked by ants in their holding pens, or after they were left wandering the construction area now devoid of any life-saving shade and burrows.  In May, the company reported to the California Energy Commission (CEC) that 6 tortoises have been lost -- three of the tortoises were juveniles being he