Remote deserts would seem to be the ideal place for Big Solar — were it only that simple
Can threatened tortoises and utility-scale solar plants coexist in the California desert? Since the solar rush began a few years ago, results have been discouraging. But an ambitious new plan aims to strike a long-lasting compromise. Northern Californians get a chance to weigh in on the process at a public meeting in Sacramento on Wednesday, September 5.
The sprawling Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is scheduled to go online next year.
Big wind and solar buildouts spur a “bio-boom” in the California desert
Field biologists like Mike Sally live a windblown, nomadic lifestyle, surveying sites for renewable energy projects. (Photo: Sarah McBride)
By Sarah McBride
I’ve reported on bubbles in plenty of stocks and commodities, but my springtime visit to the Ivanpah Valley was the first I’d heard anyone talk about a bubble in field biologists. The guy who used those words, Alex Mach, is a field biologist himself — and he was only half kidding.
Mach is one of dozens of field biologists who are out in the desert working to protect threatened animals and plants from solar and wind development projects. They’ve tapped into the rich vein of desert tortoises, whose habitats coincide with many of the areas scientists say are best positioned for solar plants — including Mach’s worksite at the time, BrightSource Energy’s solar plant in Ivanpah Valley, near the California-Nevada border. Continue reading →
It had been a good month for BrightSource Energy, the Oakland-based company that’s building the massive Ivanpah solar farm in the Mojave Desert.
Google announced it would invest $168 million in the project. The Department of Energy announced $1.6 billion loan guarantee. And on Friday, the company announced it plans to go public with a $250 million initial public offering. But a recurring issue has popped up: the desert tortoise.
A Mojave desert tortoise. (Image: USGS)
“It’s an endangered species. No project that is sited out there in within their habitat can negatively impact the population,” says Erin Curtis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. As anyone following the battles over solar farms knows, prime desert tortoise habitat also happens to be prime solar territory and has been targeted by a number of proposed solar farms.
BrightSource Energy agreed to mitigate the impacts their solar farm would have on the tortoises by capturing and relocating them to new habitat. Fences are being constructed to prevent the tortoises from returning. Continue reading →
Now, Senator Dianne Feinstein is eyeing almost a million additional acres in the Mojave off of old Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles.
There are currently 163 proposed renewable energy projects for federal lands in the Mojave Desert region. Nineteen of them are slated for the land Senator Feinstein wants to set aside. If energy companies can’t build on that land, it follows that they’ll try to build it in the land that’s left.
And that’s got a lot of people who live in the unprotected areas of the Mojave worried. Not only are most of the state’s large-scale renewable energy projects planned for this region, but as I explored in a recent two-part series for Climate Watch, there’s also a transmission corridor in the works to carry that power to Los Angeles.
Use the player below to listen to my conversation with Jim Harvey, who heads the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy, about what all of this new land protection means for environmentalists like him.