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Ninth Circuit Lets Ivanpah Solar Work Continue

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Ivanpah SEGS: still go for now. | Photo: Don Barrett/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to approve a preliminary injunction halting work on the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) based on the project's potential harm to wildlife.

The panel of judges made the ruling Friday denying a request from plaintiff group Western Watersheds, which is suing the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approving the project without ensuring the site's wildlife and groundwater resources were adequately protected.

Michael J. Connor, California Director of Western Watersheds, told ReWire that his group is still awaiting a Ninth Circuit ruling on the merits of the lawsuit; last week's ruling by Judge Dolly Gee involved an appeal of a lower court's denial of the preliminary injunction his group wanted to halt construction. According to Connor, the court also denied a motion by ISEGS developer BrightSource to dismiss the case.

The 370-megawatt concentrating solar project, which reached its construction halfway point last week, is being built by Oakland-based BrightSource in collaboration with NRG Energy and Google in the Ivanpah Valley, a Mojave Desert valley astride the California-Nevada line south of Las Vegas. The project has attracted controversy due to the quality of the wildlife habitat the project displaces (watch this segment from KCET's "SoCal Connected" to catch up). When construction commenced in 2011 BrightSource found far more tortoises than their consulting biologist had predicted, forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to rewrite its scientific assessment of the tortoises on the site so that construction could continue.

According to compliance documents BrightSource filed with the California Energy Commission (CEC) a 2.5" juvenile tortoise was found on the project's Unit One as late as June: that portion of the project had theoretically been completely cleared of tortoises for months. More than fifty tortoises are being held in pens on the site; BrightSource employees are deploying ant baits in the pens after fire ants injured a number of captive tortoises in 2011. BrightSource's June CEC compliance documents state that three of the juvenile tortoises in the holding pens have gone missing.

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