Salazar Pushes Ivanpah and Other Solar, Wind Projects

^Solar 1 (later redesigned as Solar 2) in Daggett, California. It was so unprofitable and inefficient that the plant is now shut down and is being dismantled. The mirror array in this image covers only 126 acres (of disturbed private farm land). The Ivanpah solar project would scale this design up to cover 4,000 acres of pristine desert on public land. (Image courtesy GoogleEarth)

November 5, 2009 -

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today detailed several California renewable energy projects that are on a fast track in the desert.

“Under President Obama's leadership, we have entered a new energy frontier," Salazar said. “By putting these renewable energy projects on a fast track, we are managing our public lands not just for conventional energy development but also for environmentally responsible renewable energy production that will power our clean energy future.”

Fast-track projects are those where the companies involved have demonstrated to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that they have made sufficient progress to formally start the environmental review and public participation process. These projects are advanced enough in the permitting process that they could potentially be cleared for approval by December 2010, thus making them eligible for economic stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. We note that many of these companies are foreign-owned, such as Solar Millennium, a subsidiary of a German company. All renewable energy projects proposed for BLM-managed lands are supposed to receive full environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). But we have discovered that fast-tracking means the timelines and deadlines for this review process are compressed, as in BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System proposal.

The Department of Interior news release states: "The draft environmental impact statement for the BrightSource solar energy development concluded the project could proceed without harming federally and state protected plants and wildlife under certain conditions." This is simply not supported by the evidence in this very document. Two rare plants are admitted to be "unmitigatable" -- the project will destroy these populations. Protected Desert tortoises, Burrowing owls, nesting and migratory birds, potential Gila monsters, Badgers, and Bighorn sheep will have 4,000 acres of habitat removed and even potential direct kills from construction activities or indirect deaths from ill-conceived translocation projects that have failed in the case of the Fort Irwin tortoise. 4,000 acres of biologically rich and diverse old-growth Mojave Desert yucca and cactus habitat will be graded, roads built all over it, vegetation mowed down to one foot, giant barrel cacti dug up and moved, and the whole area surrounded with an 8-foot high barbwire fence that will exclude movement of larger animals through it (as well as excluding the public from their land held in trust by the BLM). We are amazed this is considered "not harmful."

The news release goes on to say that the statement "recommends that the developer be required to purchase and manage up to 12,000 acres of habitat for the desert tortoise because the project would remove about 4,000 acres of habitat used by the protected species." This sounds good, but is misleading.

In the IVANPAH SOLAR ELECTRIC GENERATING SYSTEMS (ISEGS) FINAL STAFF ASSESSMENT, DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT, we read: "To fully mitigate for habitat loss and potential take of desert tortoise, the project owner shall provide compensatory mitigation at a 3:1 ratio for impacts to 4,073 acres or the area disturbed by the final project footprint. At least two thirds of the 3:1 mitigation to satisfy the Energy Commission’s Complementary Mitigation Measures shall be achieved by acquisition, in fee title or in easement, of no less than 8,146 acres of land suitable for desert tortoise." (page 6.2-120, >>here)

In other words the actual land acquired as mitigation will probably only be 2:1, with the other third provided as funds, usually used by the Department of Fish and Game to manage or "improve" the acquired land. In addition, the acquired land will only be chosen to satisfy Desert tortoise habitat requirements, and not specifically to mitigate for the many rare plants, Burrowing owls, Gila Monster, Bighorn sheep, and other species (a common practice but not ecologically sound).

We will be working to see that this project does not happen at all in this beautiful valley.

(Source: Department of Interior News

^Ivanpah Valley Catclaw acacias in summer.

Fast-tracked Solar and Wind Projects in the California Desert

BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System

Solar Millennium (Blythe)

Solar Millennium (Palen)

Solar Millennium (Ridgecrest)

NextEra Genesis Ford Dry Lake Solar Project

Stirling Energy Systems Solar Two Project

Stirling Energy Solar One Project

NextEra First Solar Desert Sunlight

Chevron Energy Systems Lucerne Valley

Rice Solar Energy Project

AES Daggett Ridge Wind Project

Tule Wind

Granite Mountain Wind Energy Project

(Source: BLM

^Chuckwalla Valley, a unique area of Colorado Desert that is becoming filled with ill-placed utility-scale solar energy projects.

Western Business Roundtable Recommends Ways to Fast-Track

Meanwhile a group of CEOs and senior executives had their own say lobbying Congress.

Jim Sims, co-founder of the Geothermal Energy Association, said “America's high-voltage transmission systems are stressed already, and have been for years. Adding a lot more of renewable power to the grid, which virtually everyone supports, is going to stress grids even further, given that renewables inject highly variable power flows on a system that wasn't’t built to handle a lot of variable flows .Moreover, as our economy begins to recover, demand for power is going to increase, and that will put further stress grids."

“The solution is to speed up government approval of transmission grid additions and upgrades and power plant proposals so we can firm up the grid and increase its ability to accept a lot more renewable generators," he said.

He said that in nearly all cases, intermittent renewables like wind need a one-to-one backup from fossil and nuclear energy facilities.

Sims identified key barriers to building more transmission:

• Political opposition and lawsuits by environmental groups against baseload power plants that are required to keep the grid energized and back-up renewable power generation.
• Political opposition and lawsuits by environmental groups and some landowners against transmission additions.
• Bureaucratic delays and outright opposition by federal land managers who fundamentally don’t want transmission lines going across the public lands they manage.
• Reluctance by state regulators to pass through to their rate base cost increases for grid additions that are being built to serve remote loads and/or additions that are designed to put relatively high-priced, intermittent renewable resources on the grid.
• Market and regulatory uncertainty created by public statements and proposed federal legislation that would impose discriminatory access to the grid in favor of power developers and/or politically favored generation technologies.
• Market and regulatory uncertainty tied to climate change policy development.
• Technical challenges to putting large amounts of intermittent power sources on the grid.
• The relatively shorter-term approach to resource planning and acquisition that industry has been forced to adopt because of all of the above factors.

(Source: Western Business Roundtable)

^Solar 1 project site east of Barstow, California. Pisgah Crater volcanic cone spreads black lava in the distance. View from the Cady Mountains proposed Wilderness.

HOME.....Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.....Chuckwalla Valley

Solar Millennium Amargosa Valley Nevada Project.....Solar 1 San Bernardino County, CA

Solar Energy Study Areas.....Fast-Tracking Renewables