A 38-year veteran of the National Park Service who capped his career by spending three years running Joshua Tree National Park has come out against a solar project proposed for the central Mojave Desert in no uncertain terms.
Mark Butler, who retired from his post at Joshua Tree's Superintendent last month, penned an op-ed in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times in which he slams the Soda Mountain Solar project near the Mojave National Preserve, calling it contrary to the mission of the National Park Service.
"After nearly 38 years working for the National Park Service, I hung up my 'flat hat' this month and retired as superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park," wrote Butler. "That means I can now speak out against pending proposals with the potential to harm our country's most spectacular national parks in the California desert."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe delivered subpoenaed testimony Wednesday before a House committee investigating the agency's approach to wind turbine deaths of eagles and other birds. But what could have been an informative and illuminating hearing on Obama administration policy regarding wildlife and renewable energy turned out to be nearly two hours of partisan posturing instead.
Ashe, who received a subpoena earlier this month to appear before the House Natural Resources Committee, maintained that Committee's demands for information on USFWS wind and wildlife policy were interfering with his agency's enforcement of wildlife law by diverting staff resources.
According to Ashe, 125 USFWS staff were engaged full time in answering Congressional requests for information. That includes 54 special law enforcement agents, who Ashe said were taken off jobs "addressing the international criminals who are ravaging elephants and rhinos worldwide."
The companies behind a rejected solar project that would place boilers atop two 750-foot towers near Interstate 10 in Riverside County want their proposal back on the table, according to documents filed with the state's energy agency.
The Palen Solar Electric Generating System (PSEGS), which BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar (doing business as Palen Solar Holdings, a.k.a. PSH) want to build on almost 2,800 acres of desert land west of Blythe, has been suspended since January, after a preliminary decision by the California Energy Commission recommended rejecting the project.
In January, the CEC agreed to suspend the project at PSH's request rather than deny it outright. PSH was invited at that meeting to reopen the proceedings if the company was able to address the CEC's concerns over the project's environmental and cultural impacts. Now, PSH says it's ready to address those problems and wants Palen back on the table.
We're huge fans of NASA's Earth Observatory website here at ReWire, so it pains us to report that the site got something badly wrong on Sunday. It put a controversial solar power plant in the wrong place, despite clear evidence in the post's photo, reprinted above: a Landsat 8 photo of the Ivanpah Valley taken in December 2013.
The post, written to describe the image of the day, makes the error in the second paragraph: "The new solar power plant sits within Ivanpah Dry Lake on 3,500 acres of public land that sees 330 to 350 sunny days per year." The error even extends to the post's title: Harvesting Sunlight on the Playa. (Update: NASA changed the second paragraph after this post was published; the headline remains unchanged.)
What's the problem? The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which officially went online last month, was not built "within Ivanpah Dry Lake," a.k.a "the playa." The project is actually several miles uphill from the dry lake, on an alluvial fan once teeming with wildlife. A half-trained eye could look at the Landsat image and see that's so. And here's why that distinction is important.
The National Park Service isn't happy about a proposal to build a large solar facility on almost 4,200 acres next door to the Mojave National Preserve. The agency is citing the project's threats to wildlife, rare plants, groundwater, air quality, and wilderness characteristics of the 1.6 million acre unit.
The Soda Mountain Solar Project, which would be built by Bechtel on either side of Interstate 15 along the northwest edge of the Preserve, would pose serious threats to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, migratory birds, and one of the rarest fish in the world, according to a comment letter on the project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) filed by Preserve Superintendent Stephanie Dubois.
The project would generate a maximum of 350 megawatts of power by putting solar panels on more than half the project's total footprint: about 2,200 acres. But environmental advocates are saying that the project's damage to the Preserve isn't worth the energy the plant would generate -- especially considering no one seems to be interested in buying the power.
A solar project that would cover almost six and a half square miles of the California desert near Blythe jumped one of its its final regulatory hurdles this week. On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors gave unanimous approval to the 4,096-acre McCoy Solar Energy Project, which would generate a maximum of 750 megawatts of power if it's completely built out.
Finishing the full project would require willing buyers for the project's power. At the moment, the project's owner NextEra Energy Resources has only found a taker for 250 megawatts, a third of the plant's eventual maximum output. Construction on that portion of the project is set to begin late this year, with the power going to Southern California Edison.
Filling up the buyer list for the remaining 500 megawatts may take NextEra some time, as California utilities get closer to meeting their obligations under the state law that requires they get a third of their power from renewables by 2020. In the meantime, the McCoy plant -- lauded in 2012 by the federal government as "one of the largest renewable energy projects" it had approved -- continues to raise environmentalist concerns.