News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

State Wants More Info On Solar Project's Effects

Artist's rendition, Palen solar project | Image: Palen Solar Holdings/CEC

Staff of the California Energy Commission (CEC) say they need a lot more information from the builder on a project's impacts to wildlife, archaeology, and other resources before they can sign off on it. The proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System would be built a quarter miles from Interstate 10 halfway between Indio and Blythe in Riverside County.

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The requests for more information came in the form of the CEC's Preliminary Staff Assessment on the project, now available on the CEC's website. The CEC is evaluating radical changes in the design of the project since a prior approval in 2011.

Among other things, the CEC's staff has asked project owner Palen Solar Holdings (PSH) -- a joint venture of BrightSource Energy and Abengoa -- to provide survey data on use of the area by birds, bats, and other wildlife. The CEC staff says it wil also require more information on sand transport corridors on the project footprint, impacts of glint and glare from the project's 170,000 mirrors and 750-foot power towers on drivers on the major transcontinental highway adacent to the project site, and the cultural and archaeological resources present on the site that may be disturbed by construction and operation of the plant.

With regard to that last major category of impacts, CEC's staff says that it is "still awaiting the majority of information" spelled out in earlier requests to PSH. That issue has been a source of some friction between PSH and the CEC staff; PSH has actually asked for some slack on providing cultural resorces information so that they can make a deadline important to funding the project.

Among the wildlife species that may be affected by the project are desert kit foxes (still reeling from the effects of a distemper outbreak first noticed in the vicinity of a another solar project nearby) burrowing owls, golden eagles and other raptors, desert tortoises, badgers, and a number of special-status bat species.

Though the project would cover a sprawling 3,800 acres of public land in the eastern Chuckwalla Valley, it would be visible for some distance to drivers on Interstate 10, and from a distance the project's two 750-foot power towers would be close enough to the highway that it would be difficult to avoid their glare while keeping one's eyes on the road.

If the project is built, it would generate a maximum of 500 megawatts of electrical power with its two power towers, which would be the tallest structures along I-10 between Los Angeles and Houston, Texas.

The CEC is accepting public comment on the Preliminary Staff Assessment until July 29.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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