Endangered Desert Tortoise Further Imperiled by Remote Solar Plant
Female desert tortoise resting on the apron of her burrow about to get a power plant built on her doorstep. (2010) © Michael J. Connor
For several months we’ve been covering the progress of the, now approved, solar power plant at Ivanpah near Las Vegas on the California side of the Nevada/California border. Initial construction has begun and biologists have rounded up as many desert tortoises as they can to prepare the site for what essentially amounts to sterilization. In past studies where desert tortoises had been moved, half of them died while an equal number of tortoises at the site where they were moved to were subsequently displaced and died.
The energy company BrightSource Energy says that they want to mitigate the loss of the desert tortoise by restoring Castle Mountain Venture land and mining claims in an area to the north and add them to the Mojave National Preserve. This is all well and good but the lands are very poor desert tortoise habitat and would not compensate for the habitat lost due to the destruction that the new solar plant will cause.
It’s hard to call a project like this “green” when there is no corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emitting coal or natural gas power plants and when the habitat destruction being caused further imperils the endangered desert tortoise and other species. This project keeps power generation in the hands of big corporations at the expense of taxpayers who would benefit more from subsidized use of less environmentally damaging rooftop solar.
One article, by the solar industry news site Solar Novus Today, about the lawsuit editorializes about the solar plant this way:
“One begins to wonder, aren’t we all on the same side? One of the main purposes of renewable energy is to protect the environment and help halt global warming. True, making money is a prime desire as well but if it wipes out the environmental concerns, we have, so to speak, thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Do we really need to put solar plants on pristine desert landscapes or on Native American sacred sites? It may take more time, effort and a little more money to research other less obvious sites, such as brownfields, but solar plants in these locations will accomplish both goals: keeping the environment safe and making money.”
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