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Beyond the Bay: Solar Energy Developers Square Off with Conservationists Over Mojave – Again

| March 27, 2012
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Rachael Myrow here, host of the California Report, with an AM post from somewhere else in California. We’re in this Golden State together. Right?

One person’s desert is another person development site.

Or as then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said back in 2010, “There’s some people that look out in the desert and they see miles and miles of emptiness. I see miles and miles of a gold mine.”

Early this week, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit over one massive solar project known as Calico. The press release on the NRDC’s site says the plaintiffs failed to reach agreement with the developers and the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move the project to a location “without major environmental conflicts.” Namely, private agricultural lands nearby .

Instead, developers prefer roughly 4,000 acres in the Mojave Desert’s Pisgah Valley. The thing is, tortoises live there, along with golden eagles, burrowing owls and the Mojave fringe-toed lizard. Yeah, you know with a name like that I had to do a YouTube search.  This critter pumps and shimmies like a dancer in a Soul Train line.

Skittering right along, the environmental groups say they’ve “come to an understanding” with other solar developers in the recent past. “This consensus building effort resulted in better projects … and nearly 2,600 megawatts of clean power while minimizing impacts on key species and wild lands.”

But Calico’s developer isn’t game. And who is the developer? According to the web site, K Road is run by a “seasoned team of professionals” from Sithe Energies, Goldman Sachs, AES, and Barclays. Also, has 11 power projects in the Southwestern U.S. at various stages of development. Also, the majority of K Road projects are located on Native American reservations. The 850 MW Calico Solar Project in San Bernardino County would be one of the world’s largest permitted solar projects upon completion. (Does that imply there are un-permitted projects out there somewhere? Interesting question for enterprising reporters.)

The Interior Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A similar challenge by the Sierra Club was tossed out last summer by the California Supreme Court. The state’s high court did not give a reason for its ruling, but the tossing out pleased the California Energy Commission, which called it “a boon for California’s economy” that “could pave the way for hundreds of construction and operator jobs over the next several years.”

There will be more on this story, obviously. KQED’s ClimateWatch blog is a good place to stay abreast of developments.

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Category: Environment, Law and Justice, News, Science

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About the Author ()

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness. Reach Rachael Myrow at rmyrow@kqed.org.

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