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For Immediate Release, September 9, 2009

Contact: Ileene Anderson (323) 654-5943 or (323) 490-0223, ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org

Poorly Sited Solar Project Edges Closer to Approval
Mega-project in Endangered Species Habitat Sets Bad Precedent for Renewable Energy

LOS ANGELES— Today the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a controversial industrial-scale solar energy facility planned for the California desert, moved one step closer to development. The project’s proponent, BrightSource Energy, announced an agreement with Bechtel to build the facility, which is opposed by many conservation groups and scientists due to its proposed location in endangered species habitat. The California Energy Commission and the federal Bureau of Land Management are expected to release their environmental review documents for the project later this month.

“Simply put, this project is proposed in the wrong place,” said Ileene Anderson, biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.  “There are tens of thousands of acres of already-disturbed lands in the California desert that are much closer to cities and towns that would make far more sense for this kind of project.  While rapidly transitioning to renewable energy is essential, we need not sacrifice public lands and rare species to do so.”

The relatively pristine Ivanpah Valley, just north of the Mojave National Preserve, is home to the threatened desert tortoise and numerous rare plants, while being far removed from any potential workers for building and operating the facility, or customers for the electricity ultimately generated by it.  The facility, if built, would permanently destroy more than six square miles of fragile desert habitat in the center of the valley.   

The Ivanpah project is one of the furthest along in the approval process of dozens of large-scale solar projects proposed for the California desert. More than 100 applications for solar projects scattered throughout the California desert have been submitted to the Bureau of Land Management.  These projects collectively could convert upwards of a half-million acres of natural habitat into lifeless industrial zones. 

To better address the issue of where to put solar energy projects on public lands in the western United States, the Department of the Interior has begun a programmatic environmental review process with the aim of designating solar energy zones where solar facilities could be clustered and built with fewer environmental impacts.  Interior’s initial proposal identifies more than 600,000 acres in six states where solar projects might be appropriate. 

The Ivanpah Valley is not within any of Interior’s proposed solar zones.

“Global warming is going to be putting incredible stresses on wildlife and ecosystems, especially in the deserts,” said Anderson.  “For species such as the desert tortoise to survive the coming decades, we need to preserve large blocks of intact habitat.  Destroying places like Ivanpah Valley in the name of green energy makes no sense, particularly when better alternatives are so clearly available.”

In addition to the tortoise and 10 rare plant species, the Ivanpah project site is home to several rare bat species, the elusive and rare Gila monster, and seven rare bird species, including golden eagles.  The proposed project would also impinge on the movement patterns of desert bighorn sheep, which utilize the surrounding mountain peaks.

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO2 levels are reduced to below 350 ppm, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.  If greenhouse gas emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric CO2 level of almost 390 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, disruptive global weather and ecosystem changes, and widespread human suffering.  Energy conservation and a rapid transition to renewable energy are necessary to bring about the required CO2 reductions, but important habitats and wild areas should not be sacrificed to meet these targets.

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