October 06, 2010

RELEASE: Environmentalists Criticize First Giant Solar Projects Approved on Public Land

Posted In | By admin

Thousands of acres of intact California desert to be bulldozed

October 6, 2010 - At 11:00 a.m. yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, along with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed the final Record of Decision approval that will allow developers to begin construction on two proposed solar energy projects in the California Desert.

Solar Done Right (SDR), a coalition of conservation and renewable energy activists working to move solar development from intact desert and grassland ecosystems and into the urban environment, slammed the approvals as end-runs around the public process.

“Though Secretary Salazar claimed yesterday that the approval neither ‘cut any corners or skipped any environmental checks,’ that’s just not true,” said Beatty, Nevada biologist Laura Cunningham of Solar Done Right. “Environmental and cultural reviews were cut short by fast-tracking, and enormous irreversible impacts were acknowledged but dismissed by the California Energy Commission (CEC), undermining long-standing environmental laws.”

“Renewable energy needs to be generated closer to where its used, not in pristine deserts on distant public land,” said SDR’s Sheila Bowers. “Neither the BLM nor CEC seriously considered alternatives such as point of use rooftop solar, which is cheaper, cleaner, and faster to implement than these Big Energy boondoggles. The Imperial Valley Solar Project alone will cost more than two billion dollars, much of it from our taxes, plus the Sunrise Powerlink’s nearly three billion ratepayer dollars to get the power to the city. Half a million homes could be fully powered with rooftop solar for the next thirty years if those taxpayer and ratepayer dollars were spent wisely.”

“These projects will destroy the quality of life for neighbors and people who love the desert,” said Terry Weiner, Conservation Coordinator of the Desert Protective Council and an SDR member. “The multiple use value of our public lands for wildlife habitat, recreation and all other uses are completely eliminated as the chain-link fences go up around these gargantuan industrial zones.”

The Imperial Valley Solar Project will scrape ten square miles of habitat for flat-tailed horned lizards, burrowing owls, Peninsular bighorn sheep, and rare plants.  According to testimony by the CEC’s own staff, hundreds of cultural sites will be destroyed, more than in all other projects combined in its 30-year history.

The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project is said to be on “disturbed lands,” but site visits by SDR members revealed thriving old-growth Mojave Desert creosote shrub land with Joshua tree woodland, and a high density of the Federally Threatened desert tortoise. Hundreds of acres of this healthy desert landscape will be bulldozed and replaced with photovoltaic panels, which could more easily and quickly go on rooftops.


Solar Done Right, founded in the summer of 2010, is a coalition of public land activists, solar power and electrical engineering experts, biologists and others around the country who view with concern the rush to develop our few remaining wild lands for industrial solar energy.

In the months since SDR’s founding, the group has helped stage and participate in a protest encampment at the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station site, and met with dozens of Congressional and agency staff in Washington, DC to promote its approach to renewable energy development.

Solar Done Right holds that there is a proper hierarchy of priority for strategies to end our nation’s addiction to fossil fuels.  We should start the switch by using the most cost-effective strategies for renewable energy production, which also happen to be the least environmentally destructive. In descending order of priority:

1) Reduce demand.

2) Generate renewable energy at or near the point of use.

3) Generate renewable energy on a larger scale within the built environment.

Solar Done Right contends that a mix of these techniques can meet our electrical energy needs without large remote concentrating solar projects. However, should it turn out that after every practicable effort is made to reduce demand and generate renewable power at the point of use some form of remote concentrating solar turns out to be necessary, such projects should be restricted to heavily degraded land that offers no wildlife habitat, agricultural, or similar values, and to technologies that do not deplete scarce water resources. Public and private wild lands and productive agricultural land should never be converted to large-scale renewable energy production.  Visit the SDR website at