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Firm Appeals Feds' No-Go of Silurian Valley Solar

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Silurian Valley | Photo: Bob Wick, BLM California/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A federal decision that gave a thumbs-down to a 1,600-acre solar facility in the Silurian Valley south of Death Valley National Park is being appealed by the owners of the project.

In November, the Bureau of Land Management rejected Iberdrola Renewables' subsidiary Aurora Solar's proposal to build the 200-megawatt Silurian Solar project on the main scenic highway linking Death Valley with the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree Park, citing the irreparable damage the project would cause to wildlife, cultural resources, and views.

But in late December, Iberdrola Renewables submitted a formal challenge of that decision to the body that oversees the BLM's legal decisions, citing "substantial economic harm" to the company if its project isn't approved.

Aurora Solar had proposed the Silurian Valley solar project along with a companion 160-megawatt, 6,700-acre wind facility which is still under review by the BLM. Opponents of both projects have charged that industrial renewable energy development is inappropriate for the Silurian Valley, which offers some of the least-developed scenery accessible by paved road in the Mojave Desert, as well as important wildlife habitat.

Activists cheered the BLM's decision to spike Silurian Valley solar in November. But for Aurora Solar, the BLM's move was nothing to celebrate: instead, it meant that the company stood to lose about half a million dollars it had invested in the speculative project. In the words of its parent company Iberdrola's notice of appeal of the decision,

As the applicant for the ROW [right-of-way] grant and associated variance for the Silurian Solar Project, Aurora Solar has a legally cognizable interest that is adversely affected by the decision; as the sole owner of Aurora Solar, lberdrola Renewables shares in that legally cognizable interest.... Aurora Solar has actively participated in the administrative proceeding, and invested approximately half a million dollars to pursue the application and variance request. Because the decision denies the requested variance, Aurora Solar is precluded from advancing its application and obtaining the requested ROW grant, and both Aurora Solar and lberdrola Renewables will suffer substantial economic harm.

Iberdrola also charges that the BLM's decision is arbitrary and capricious, and in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws.

The appeal was submitted to, and will be evaluated by, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, or IBLA, a panel of administrative review judges within the Interior Department charged with evaluating Interior's administrative decisions. Unless the actual appeal filed by Iberdrola has better legal arguments than "we stand to lose the money we invested in the hope the decision would go our way," it's unlikely IBLA will rule in Iberdrola's favor.

Depending on how long the company wants to drag things out, Iberdrola can respond to an unfavorable IBLA decision by suing Interior in a U.S. District Court. We'll be tracking this case.

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