|Photo by Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times: Ivanpah solar plant in Mojave Desert|
"For decades, America's Western deserts have been dusty storehouses for government scrap, a lode for minerals, a staging ground for tanks and military maneuvers," Cart writes, but the newest onslaught of solar development is creating a sense of urgency, with BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar plant in California standing as "an exclamation point in the desert." The plant could generate enough energy to power 140,000 homes during peak hours. Solar is expensive, though, costing three times more than coal or natural gas, so consumers pay 50 percent more for it, according to the California Public Utitlities Commission. The Obama administration has offered $45 billion in tax credits to solar companies, creating a land rush for public desert land.
Bureau of Land Management biologist Larry LaPre said some aspects of BrightSource's project were "carefully considered and painstakingly done," but others are "complete nonsense." Jeffrey Lovich, who studies desert tortoises for the U.S. Geological Survey, said it's unknown what will happen to wildlife when a solar farm is built. (Photo: Desert tortoises have been rounded up and placed in pens near the plant, pending relocation.)
Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council "have been largely mute" because they helped with development plans. Cart reports 24 environmental groups signed statements supporting solar developers, agreeing with federal officials and solar companies that the urgency of climate change has "forced difficult trade-offs." The National Park Service, Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration have voiced concern, though, for various reasons relevant to each agency. (Read more)