Confronting the joint need to protect biodiversity while expanding alternative energy projects, after three years of deliberation, a fourth BrightSource Energy Concentrated Solar Power Plant was approved by California’s Energy Commission. Impeding approval of the Israeli company’s Solar Energy Generating Station (SEGS) in Ivanpah, California, were environmentalists’ concerns over the plant’s potential impact on rare desert plants and the desert tortoise in the Mojave desert. But the commission ruled in favor of diversifying the state’s energy mix and mitigating global warming. If the remaining five are approved, the combined nine plants could provide sufficient energy to run 860,000 homes.
BrightSource Energy has promised to have trained specialists relocate the 25-50 desert tortoises that are said to burrow beneath the ground on the 3,500 acre land expanse where the solar plants will be built, though scientists are not certain that doing so will protect them in the long run.
“The desert tortoise will continue its ongoing slide toward extinction,” Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Los Angeles told Mercury News.
“And if these tortoises are going to be moved, we have to make sure that they don’t move them again if another project comes along, like the proposed high-speed rail line.”
Also threatened in the region are mojave milkweed and desert pincushion, two rare plants, and there is concern that the Mojave desert, which has among the best solarity in the world, will become an “energy sprawl,” according to Dana Hull.
All told, the project will create 8,000 jobs and generate 4,300 MW. The utility company PG&E will purchase two-thirds of the generated energy while Southern California Edison will absorb the last third.
It will be the first Concentrated Solar Plant built on federally-owned land, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Backed by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Google.org and others, BSE has also received a $1.37 billion conditional loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“We look forward to commencing construction on Ivanpah and setting a model for environmentally-responsible utility-scale solar projects,” BrightSource CEO John Woolard told the paper.
:: Mercury News
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