Controversial solar power plant challenged by conservation groups
Conservation groups urge Interior Department to move the Calico Solar Project to less sensitive landsWashington (08/25/2011) -
A coalition of conservation groups made a last-ditch appeal to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today, urging the Bureau of Land Management to move the Calico Solar Project from vital desert habitat to degraded lands that could produce the same amount of energy, but pose less risk to imperiled wildlife and the environment.
“The conservation community wants to see clean energy projects succeed, but development has to be done smart from the start, where projects are designed up front to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts on wildlife and the environment. The Calico Solar Project is a glaring example of the wrong way to pursue solar energy projects,” said Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The harm to imperiled wildlife, plants and fragile desert habitat caused by this project if it is built in this location seriously outweighs any benefits. And while we’ve worked successfully with a number of large-scale solar project developers to reduce their project’s impacts on the environment and supported other projects with no changes, the impacts of this project are too great in its present location. As we have done successfully with other solar developers, we hope we can find a way to modify this project to reduce its impacts and permit it to proceed.”
The groups have notified the Interior Department of their intention to file a lawsuit against BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approving the 4,613-acre solar power facility, which will impact seven imperiled species in the fragile Mojave Desert landscape, including desert tortoise, burrowing owls and bighorn sheep.
But the groups hope to work out an agreement with the project's developer, K-Road Power, and BLM outside the courts if the developer is willing to move the project to less sensitive lands. The groups have pointed out that the project could work well on mostly private lands -- including some degraded agricultural lands and former industrial sites, called brownfields, that are close the current site, but outside of the sensitive Pisgah Valley.
The California Energy Commission found that these alternative sites would be a good option for the project and would likely result in fewer impacts on wildlife and the environment. But BLM and the project developer at the time, Tessera Solar, rejected these locations.
Together, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club have worked out agreements with developers to resolve concerns over four projects on public lands, resulting in the permitting of some 2,595 megawatts -- nearly 90 percent of the solar energy to be built on BLM lands in California. Despite the groups’ strong track record of working with developers to reduce impacts on wildlife and natural resources, K-Road Power has been unwilling to consider a less environmentally damaging alternative.
“The area where the Calico project is currently planned is simply not appropriate for renewable energy development,” said Barb Boyle, Senior Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “If built in this location, the Calico project will unnecessarily sacrifice important and irreplaceable wildlife, plants and habitat. Especially when there are ample disturbed and/or degraded sites throughout California that are appropriate for renewable energy development, selecting this specific land for the project has created a preventable conflict between the project’s developers and Californians who want to preserve our state’s native wildlife and landscapes. There is still time to get this right and we hope to work with K-Road Power to find an alternative location that has far fewer impacts on wildlife and desert ecosystems.”
Contact(s):James Navarro, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0247
David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club, 213-427-0584
Serena Ingre, NRDC, 415-875-6155
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.