Opposition Swells to Solar Plant Next to Mojave Preserve

SOURCE:  kcet.org

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Looking toward the Mojave National Preserve from the site of Soda Mountain Solar | Photo: Michael Gordon

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A proposed solar power plant that some opponents are calling “the worst renewable energy project currently under consideration” in California just found itself some significant opposition, as a public committee charged with advising the Bureau of Land Management on desert issues agreed to oppose the project.

In a nearly unanimous vote with just one member abstaining, the BLM’s Desert District Advisory Committee agreed at its February 28 meeting to recommend that the BLM say no to the proposed 350-megawatt Soda Mountain Solar project, which would occupy almost 4,200 acres of land adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve near Baker.

“No reconfiguration of this project would remove its harmful effects,” said Advisory Committee member Seth Shteir at the meeting. “And we plan to draft a letter with that statement in it.”

The lone abstention on the Advisory Council vote came from Council member Leslie Barrett, who represents the renewable energy industry on the Council.

The Advisory Council’s letter to State BLM Director Jim Kenna comes in a week when activists tracking the project have learned that the Interior Department is ready to make the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement publicly available. Once that happens, a decision on the project could come in as little as 30 days.

As currently configured, Soda Mountain Solar, owned by the engineering firm Bechtel, would occupy land on both sides of Interstate 15 a few miles southwest of the San Bernardino County community of Baker. So far no utility has stepped forward to agree to buy the power the project would produce.

Opponents of Soda Mountain Solar point out that the project would fragment important spring foraging habitat and migration corridors for desert bighorn sheep, as well as reducing habitat for desert kit foxes, desert tortoises, and burrowing owls.

The project has also come under fire for potentially threatening one of the last remaining populations of the federally Endangered Mojave tui chub, which lives downhill from the project site in Soda Springs near Zzyzx. A recent hydrological study by the U.S. Geological Survey, however, suggested groundwater pumping at the project site may not have much of an effect on Soda Springs.

Regardless of the arguably good news about the tui chub, opponents charge that the project’s location as well as its effect on local wildlife, make Soda Mountain Solar the wrong project in the wrong place, and are calling on the Interior Department to drop the project.

“The proposed Soda Mountain solar project site is clearly a bad spot especially due to the proximity to Mojave National Preserve, the area’s important bighorn sheep corridor and desert tortoise habitat,” said Dennis Schramm, the retired Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. “Interior should not be taking actions now which would prevent future restoration of this very important wildlife corridor.”

“The Soda Mountain solar proposal is the worst renewable energy project currently under consideration by Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Interior,” said G. Sidney Silliman, Professor Emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “It would be a travesty if the Interior Department ignores its duty to protect our National Park System and sides with Bechtel, a billion-dollar corporation, versus the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Mojave National Preserve each year to view wildflowers and wildlife, camp, as well as hunt and explore the back country.”

19 comments on “Opposition Swells to Solar Plant Next to Mojave Preserve

  1. I can’t help it: If alternative energy and a concerted effort away from the status quo is to have a chance of success for the American Public, more effort and money needs to be directed at retrofitting of older buildings with solar and wind, and inclusion of those energy alternatives into new construction – not once again finding ways to fund mega-business at the expense of our pristine landscapes and beleaguered wildlife.
    So I applaud this particular Advisory Board for taking an unpopular stance, and actually representing the Public’s interests.
    Hmm…imagine that. An advisory board recommending the BLM say ‘no’.
    Odd, that.

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    • I agree with you, Lisa. Janine Blaeloch of a Western Lands Project was a guest recently on Wild Horse & Burro Radio – and stated that solar should be on rooftops of houses and buildings and parking structures and on reclamation areas, NOT on pristine public lands.

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      • You’d think there would be enough profit to make a corporation happy with sales, installation and maintenance of ‘individualized’ solar. Grab them ‘contractor’ dollars by suitin’ up a Federal building or two with a shiny rooftop and a turbine.
        But, NO.
        I’m truly sick of these (insert your personal favorite swear word here) treating America’s open spaces like a clearance racks – “Everything must GO!!”
        And it’s not like they’d be giving all that power away, either. Does anyone really believe ratepayers will be paying LESS for sunshine?
        Bitter, bitter is me…

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    • Yep.
      I know a lady who runs an equine sanctuary out in the middle of Nowhere; she has miniature version of that THING on a corner of her house.
      I asked her if it had EVER killed a bird or bat. She said ‘never’. Not once. Hers probably didn’t cost a million bucks, or shut down the highway when it was transported and installed, and you can stand right next to her house without getting smacked by it.
      BUT… it only provides power to HER place, so I suppose that’s just — selfish.

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    • And hear in CO, as I am sure in your home town, they are sticking solar panels on every piece of land (that they cannot put a fracking well)we have so many I would sure like to know what they power because our bills have not gone down they are all over in the city, they do not have to put them in the open spaces-‘-and remember BHO is funding solar now and reports say those companies go under in 3 years. Just another selling off of our lands

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  2. These “energy projects” are about monopoly and control of resources.
    The sun and wind are kind of difficult to monopolize, but what better way to make a giant land grab.

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  3. Be sure to let us know if this project goes through or not . Sure hope not.
    China is making solar panels cheaper but they are still expensive so that’s why they aren’t being put on roof tops here I suppose but Germany is using them extensively. .

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    • Germany and other European countries are finding that the cost/benefit of wind and solar are insufficient. There are plans for some of the European countries to add coal to their mix. They have been getting natural gas piped in from Russia, but the geopolitical situation is making this less secure.

      Wonder why we aren’t trying to harness the methane that leaks from rifts in the Earth’s surface. We wouldn’t need to frack that.

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  4. The utilities are fighting solar and wind energy with gusto. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are the “opponents”. The utilities are fighting home solar panels, so why not this massive setup. If the BLM is involved in it, you can bet they have partnered with a big corporation to make it happen. The advisory board recommends “no” to the BLM because it doesn’t involve wild horses or the grazing associations.

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    • the big utility companies will make money from the large solar plants, but won’t make money off of small solar on houses or buildings. I think small solar would actually create more jobs. think of all the houses in the U.S.

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  5. Side note: And Leslie Barrett didn’t even have the backbone to vote “no” to uphold her special interest backer and how she certainly even got onto the board … so she abstained from voting? “The lone abstention on the Advisory Council vote came from Council member Leslie Barrett, who represents the renewable energy industry on the Council.”

    These “advisory boards” are completely politically controlled by special interest groups and I am surprised that this project has been vetoed. I know someone who was asked to be on a BLM advisory board but then the offer was rescinded when the person said they would not push PZP. Surprise surprise.

    I agree that solar and wind should be on our own rooftops and backyards. Does anyone remember how (30 foot type) windmills used to be all over the countryside to provide energy for personal use? But of course that worked TOO well and made people independent – heaven forbid.

    More information can be found here: http://www.mojavedesertblog.com/

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  6. Got a chuckle out of Arizona’s “creating” overpasses for the bighorn sheep! Of course they would spend all that money & time on that particular animal – which creates dollars from hunters, right? Not that I’m against the sheep – this does actually benefit lots of other animals – I guess. How sad that the BLM AND states don’t put money into keeping our wild horses & burros wild & free. Oh, right, that wouldn’t cost all that much would it? When they aren’t rounded up & penned up, not only are the horses & burros free – BUT we, the taxpayers don’t have to pay for all the BLM freeloaders!

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  7. Aren’t the birds and other species (city squirrels and trees, e.g.) also injured by solar panels and windmills ON rooftops ? Particularly if this use becomes widespread and concentrated? Are there real impact differences KNOWN, or simply Guessing games ?

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    • I haven’t heard of windmills on rooftops, and I don’t think the smaller solar panels on buildings generate the amount of heat that huge solar plants, that span for many miles, do.

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