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ACTION TIMELINE

Supporting Proper Siting Through the “Solar PEIS”

May 2008 – The Bureau of Land Management published a notice in the Federal Register of plans for preparing a “programmatic environmental impact statement” to evaluate solar-energy development (a “solar PEIS”) to help ensure that solar projects are sited and constructed to inflict minimal harm on the environment.

September 2009 – The Center submitted “scoping comments” for the BLM’s solar PEIS. Our comments were supportive of renewable solar-energy development and voiced site-specific concerns regarding rare plants and animals, water availability and impacts on previously undisturbed desert environments.

August 25, 2010 – The Center met with Steve Black, counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to express strong support for the thorough vetting of sites for renewable-energy projects supported by the PEIS. We expressed concern over the haphazard and rushed analysis being given to “fast-track” energy projects, many of which have significant environmental impacts.

December 16, 2010 – The BLM and Department of Energy released a draft of the PEIS. The Center began working with a coalition of other groups to review and comment on the document.

Watchdogging the Silver State Solar Project

July and September 2009 – The Center submitted scoping comments on an environmental impact statement for the Silver State Solar Project, which would construct two solar energy-generation facilities — including 7,840 acres of solar panels — on BLM land in Clark County.

Spring 2010 – The Center met several times with the proponents of the Silver State Project to attempt to influence the project’s design to make it less harmful to habitat and species, particularly to the desert tortoise.

June 1, 2010 – The Center commented of the draft environmental impact statement for the Silver State Project. Among our major concerns were impacts on high-quality occupied desert tortoise habitat; plans to translocate tortoises; impacts on other species, like Gila monsters and burrowing owls; the need for additional transmission lines; cumulative impacts when several nearby projects are considered; and the industrialization and commercialization of currently undisturbed desert habitat.

September 20, 2010 – The BLM released its final environmental impact statement for the project, partially addressing the Center’s concerns by stating the project would be implemented in phases, with the first phase avoiding prime desert tortoise habitat, not requiring new transmission lines, and allowing tortoises to be translocated to an adjacent rather than distant site.

October 13, 2010 – The Silver State Solar Project became the first approved solar-energy project in Nevada when Interior Secretary Salazar approved the first phase of the project. It would produce 50 megawatts of renewable power, enough to supply 15,000 households. The agency heeded the Center’s request that only the first phase be approved, allowing issues concerning desert tortoises on other phase locations to be addressed with federal agencies and the project’s proponent.

The ON Line Transmission Project: A Key for Renewable Energy Transmission

August 27, 2009 – The Center submitted scoping comments for the One Nevada Line or “ON Line” transmission project, a fast-track project that would construct a transmission line across about 236 miles of Nevada. We debated the need for the project (in light of its redundancy with other projects proposed for the same general route) and gave input on routing alternatives to avoid harm to desert tortoises, sage grouse, bighorn sheep and raptors. We also voiced concerns over the environmental impacts of the project’s right-of-way, including the spread of invasive weeds and off-road vehicle destruction.

January 8, 2010 – The Center submitted comments on the “draft supplemental environmental impact statement” for the project, again questioning the need for the transmission line. We also voiced concerns over whether the line would primarily transport clean (instead of coal-produced) energy; the draft statement’s failure to adequately protect desert tortoises and sage grouse; and its lack of proposed measures to counter climate impacts from project-associated sulfur hexafluoride, a greenhouse gas 23,000 times more potent than CO2.

Protecting the Mojave From the Eldorado-Ivanpah Transmission Project

August 20, 2009 – The Center submitted scoping comments on the environmental impact statement for thEldorado-Ivanpah transmission project, which would connect projects in the Mojave Desert, requiring a new substation and upgrades. Our comments questioned the need for the project, highlighting the cumulative impacts when considering related projects; impacts on species like the desert tortoise, white-margined penstemon and desert bighorn sheep; and impacts on the Mojave National Preserve and other special-status areas.

June 18, 2010 – The Center submitted comments on the draft environmental impact statement for this project, pointing out that it did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act; failed to propose enough alternatives, such as a distributed-power (rooftop solar) alternative; and failed to adequately analyze effects on rare species and special-status areas.

Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project: A Fast-track Project Executed With Care

Spring - Summer 2009 – The Center met several times with the proponents of the Amargosa Farm Road Project, a solar power plant proposed as a “wet-cooled” facility by company Solar Millennium for the town of Amargosa Valley. We advocated for a less destructive design, particularly regarding water needs and impacts on nearby spring and riparian species, such as the Amargosa toad and species at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

October 12, 2009 – We submitted scoping comments expressing concerns about the wet-cooled facility’s groundwater needs, direct and cumulative impacts on wildlife and plants, climate-change implications, and the need to plan for migration corridors and habitat linkages for local species.

November 2009 – In response to our concerns, Solar Millennium decided to drop its designs for a wet-cooled facility, instead building a dry-cooled facility that would require much less groundwater.

May 3, 2010 – The Center submitted comments on the Amargosa Farm Solar Project draft environmental impact statement, welcoming the change from a wet- to a dry-cooled facility but raising the need for the project to make up for habitat destruction and water use. We also reiterated the need to analyze the project’s impacts when assessed cumulatively with those from other planned projects, to address impacts from climate change and to plan for migration corridors and habitat linkages. Finally, we noted the draft statement’s failure to adequately emissions.

November 15, 2010 – Interior Secretary Salazar approved the Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project, which will produce up to 500 megawatts of power, enough for about 150,000 households. The final decision chose a dry-cooled system and included an innovative groundwater mitigation plan to protect the rare and imperiled species at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, including the Devil’s Hole pupfish and 25 other species.

Improving the Crescent Dunes Solar Project

December 22, 2009 – The Center submitted scoping comments on the environmental impact statement for the Crescent Dunes Solar Project, focusing on its impacts on rare plants and dune beetles in the project area, the need for limited groundwater withdrawals to support it, and its cumulative environmental impacts.

October 18, 2010 – The Center submitted comments on the project’s draft environmental impact statement. Our comments centered on the need for more protections for the Nevada Oryctes, a rare plant, and two desert sand-dune inhabiting beetles, as well as the necessity to conserve groundwater.

December 20, 2010 – Interior Secretary Salazar approved the Crescent Dunes Solar Project, which will produce up to 110 megawatts of power, enough for 75,000 households. The decision incorporated some of the Center’s recommendations, including shifting the project’s location to largely avoid beetle habitat and incorporating a “hybrid” cooling system requiring less groundwater.

 

Defending Species and Wilderness From the Spring Valley Wind Project

January 15, 2010 – The Center submitted comments raising many concerns about the preliminary environmental assessment for the seriously flawed Spring Valley Wind Project.

August 17, 2010 – The Center submitted comments on a second environmental assessment prepared by the BLM for this project, which included no substantive changes to the first environmental assessment — so our comments were essentially the same.

October 10, 2010 – Despite intense concern from environmental groups, American Indian tribes and the National Park Service, the BLM issued a “finding of no significant impact” and approved the Spring Valley Wind Project.

November 13, 2010 – The Center, along with Basin and Range Watch, Western Watersheds Project, National Parks Conservation Association, Nevada Wilderness Project and Sierra Club, filed an appeal and “request for stay” to the Interior Board of Lands Appeals requesting that the BLM’s decision be overturned due to administrative and procedural flaws, as well as impacts on species such as bats, sage grouse and raptors (among other reasons). The Goshute tribe also filed an appeal of this project.

January 26, 2011 – The Center, one other conservation group and three American Indian tribes filed suit to protect the pristine Spring Valley, adjacent to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, from a poorly sited, 8,000-acre industrial wind-energy project approved by the Department of the Interior with minimal environmental review.

 

Fighting Flaws in the Amargosa North Solar Project

February 11, 2010 – The Center submitted scoping comments on the Amargosa North Solar Project’s environmental impact statement. Our comments centered on the project’s potential impacts on species like the desert tortoise, four rare and imperiled dune insects, Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge species and the Amargosa toad; groundwater conservation; the need for analysis of cumulative impacts from interconnected actions; the need for habitat corridors and linkages; climate change implications, including from emissions of the enormously powerful greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride; and pollution from cadmium telluride, a highly toxic chemical and carcinogen.

Photo by Rob Mrowka