Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar were on hand last week to commemorate the ground-breaking of BrightSource Energy’s new Ivanpah Solar Electrical Generating Site California’s Ivanpah Valley. Upon completion, the site will double the generation of commercial thermal solar electricity in the U.S. But not everyone is happy about it.
The site has been met with protest from environmental groups such as the Basin and Range Watch, however, over the number of threatened desert tortoises that call the Ivanpah Valley home. Initial Bureau of Land Management estimates of the tortoise population were found to be underestimates. Tortoises are being relocated from the project site, but the fear is that some may be missed and others may fail to adapt to a new habitat.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game say that on translocation projects, such as Ivanpah, 50 percent of relocated tortoises will die, mostly due to predation,” said Laura Cunningham, tortoise biologist with Basin Range and Watch. “Also, 50 percent of tortoises in the host site are estimated to die due to competition, and 85 percent of juvenile tortoises will die because they are hard to find.”
Boasting 3,500 acres, BrightSource Energy, a privately held company that provides solar energy for utility and industrial companies, notes the Ivanpah Solar Electrical Generating Site will produce 370 megawatts of clean renewable energy. The site will power the equivalent of 140,000 homes annually and will provide power to both Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
The benefits to the environment are immediate, BrightSource notes in a press release. The dramatic increase in commercial solar power generation will ensure the avoidance of 13.5 million tons of carbon emissions and an 85 percent reduction in pollution compared to a coal-fired plant. In addition to the environmental gains, the Ivanpah solar site is providing more than 1,000 jobs to the region and $300 million in tax benefits.
“Meeting our growing energy needs with reliable, low-cost, carbon free power and protecting habitat are not mutually exclusive goals,” said BrightSource Energy Representative Jennifer Rigney. “BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah project is proving you can do both—build utility scale solar and protect desert habitat.”
But Cunningham said she’s seen firsthand the effects of tortoise relocation.
“With tortoise populations declining over their entire range, we must conserve habitat,” she said. “Moving tortoises does not work.”
Photo: Chris Clarke.