BrightSource Energy‘s 392 MW Ivanpah solar project, now under construction, has met another obstacle. With the discovery of more tortoises than expected on the land, tortoises are halting part of the pioneering solar project, according to Ucilia Wang at GigaOm. After 39 tortoises were discovered, the company was asked to stop the fencing process, which is the first step preceding construction, around the area where phase 2 and 3 were to have been built. Phase 1 is not affected, and is proceeding with construction.
The next step will be a 130 day delay while The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes stock of the tortoise population and how to protect it, and then it will issue a revised biological opinion that will determine what the company must do, to protect the population of tortoises.
BrightSource Energy has already overcome many obstacles in getting the Ivanpah solar project under construction, in the process cutting the world’s largest solar power deal with a California utility.
The company already had curbed its land use by 23 percent to accommodate its wildlife protection plan, overcome several lawsuits, received a $1.4 billion (now $1.6 billion) DOE loan guarantee, found financing (Google’s Largest Investment Goes To BrightSource Energy), filed a $250 million IPO, and broken ground on the first of the three phases planned in October, 2010.
In doing so, it has been one of the few beating the Republican deadline to be eligible for the 30% cash grant from the Feds allowed in lieu of a tax credit for companies that made a loss during the economic cataclysm preceding the Recovery Act.
It has also been one of the few to break ground in a Californian regulatory environment that speeds dangerous natural gas plants into production, while clean energy projects are beset by local “environmental” concerns. Even aside from greenhouse gases, the use of natural gas for electricity threatens California’s drinking water water supplies, for many more individuals than a few tortoises.
BrightSource Energy is sanguine about its chance of completing phase 2 and 3 on time in 2013, however. This will add costs to the project, that has already been reduced in size to accommodate tortoises originally found, which have been tagged and moved to nearby land as part of the company’s plan to minimize its project’s impact on wildlife.
Having made it this far through the formidable regulatory permitting process, it is among the vanguard of energy projects curbing global warming with sensible clean power. The US company BrightSource Energy is the child of the Israeli company Luz. BrightSource Energy still employs the Israeli brains behind Luz, which with its decades-old solar project SEGS operated successfully in the California desert for several decades – since the last time a US president – Carter – promoted solar power. So, the Israeli subsidiary BrightSource Industries, and new parent BrightSource Energy has already helped keep the carbon footprint of Californians to half that of average Americans.
There comes a time when we have to consider the temporary protection of relatively few animals in the larger context and weigh that loss against the many more billions of individuals – both animal and human – that will be affected over the next 100,000 years by our failure to move decisively to curb the much larger ecosystem destruction by global warming that threatens us all.
Each large-scale clean energy project forestalled adds to the pressure for another dirty energy project to sail through permitting, with long-lasting consequences.