Michael J. Connor, Ph.D.
Western Watersheds Project
Secretary of the Interior Salazar is about to initial a series of major giveaways of public lands in California to industrial-scale solar power producers. These “fast-tracked” power plant projects have had truncated environmental reviews in the current administration’s rush to place huge chunks of public land in the hands of developers to build on them at public expense.
The Ivanpah Solar Power Plant project is a prime example. The project’s proponent, BrightSource Energy, will build an experimental “power tower” solar power plant on over five and a half square miles of high quality desert tortoise habitat in California’s Ivanpah Valley. The 1.7 billion dollar project will be primed with $1.3 billion in public “economic stimulus” funds provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
The project is the first of a number of power plants proposed for public lands in the Ivanpah Valley. A photovoltaic plant is planned right next door to the Ivanpah power plant. Just down the valley over the Nevada border is the proposed Silver State power plant. These and other projects will block off the Ivanpah Valley, turn the North Ivanpah Valley into an industrial zone, and will have major consequences for rare and endangered wildlife. Although the ESA-listed desert tortoise population is declining, the Ivanpah power plant will split the North Ivanpah Valley, eliminate desert tortoise habitat, require that resident tortoises be relocated placing them and any resident tortoises at the relocation site in danger, and will severely compromise connectivity and gene flow between important desert tortoise populations. It will also impact foraging for bighorn sheep and other wildlife, a number of rare plants, and an assemblage of barrel cactus unrivaled elsewhere in the Golden State. Native Americans cultural remains including unusual stone structures will be stranded in a sea of mirrors. The agencies don’t know what these structures are, so how can they be important? No matter that the local Chemehuevi Indians don’t share that view.