Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Environmentalists say planned solar plant in California would harm rare species

A weekend protest from environmentalists directed at a planned solar energy power plant is the latest example of growing tension between environmental groups and renewable-energy interests. About 20 people hiked several miles of the 3,400-acre site of the planned Ivanpah Solar Field, just on the California side of the Nevada border, to raise awareness of the rare and endangered plants and animals that would be harmed by construction, Stephanie Tavares of The Las Vegas Sun reports. Participants belong to environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Watersheds Project and Basin and Range Watch, but were reported to be acting independently of those organizations.

"Renewable energy developers have long been the darlings of environmental groups, but Saturday’s event highlights a growing rift within those groups," Tavares writes. These environmentalists support renewable energy, but only as a form of "distributed generation," where rooftop solar panels and backyard wind turbines replace massive new power plants and new transmission lines. "I don’t understand why so much emphasis has to be put on these gigantic projects that are taking up wild open space," hiker Laura Cunningham told Tavares. "Reducing electricity consumption even a tiny bit and deploying urban technologies like rooftop solar first, before we start bringing out the bulldozers, would be better for everyone."

The Ivanpah Solar Field, owned by BrightSource Energy, is the first planned U.S. mega-solar plant, and was the first "solar project to receive approval for a federally backed loan guarantee through the Energy Policy Act," Tavares reports. BrightSource says it will uproot many of the most important plants and either transplant them or keep them in a nursery for the estimated 30-year lease of the federal acreage, while desert tortoises would be moved.The company's environmental impact statement estimates one in six tortoises would die. (Read more)

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