(November 27) The Bureau of Land Management has denied Iberdrola Renewables’ reqest to construct a 200-megawatt solar plant in the Silurian Valley.
Iberdrola’s project would have been built along Highway 127 about ten miles north of the community of Baker in San Bernardino County, along a stretch of road that has been described as one of the most scenic in the state. The solar project would also have been immediately adjacent to Iberdrola’s proposed Silurian Valley wind project, a 160-megawatt facility occupying more than 6,700 acres in the north end of the valley.
The Iberdrola project would have been built along Highway 127 about ten miles north of Baker on more than 1,600 acres of highly scenic land.
It was in some measure because of the pristine nature of the dramatic landscape that the Bureau of Land Management sided with the environmentalists who had opposed the project. Iberdola had also proposed erecting a 160-megawatt wind power project on 6,700 acres adjacent to the solar plant on the north end of the valley.
According to an official statement from the Bureau of Land Management, the project would cause too much damage to the area’s environment and historic resources.
After assessing the project, the Bureau of Land Management concluded that the solar project’s “impacts to the Silurian Valley, a largely undisturbed valley that supports wildlife, an important piece of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, and recreational and scenic values, had too great of an impact on the resources,” a press release issued by he Bureau stated. The wind component of the project was not addressed in the announcement.
The BLM’s rejection of the Silurian facility marks the first time a renewable energy project proposal on so-called “variance lands” that lie outside Solar Energy Zones designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012 has been turned back.. Upon the Bureau’s agreement to consider the project, the environmental impact assessment process under the National Environmental Policy Act would have begun. The BLM has approved 18 solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands in California since 2010.
Despite Environmentalists’ general support of the concept of ending dependence on the use of fossil fuels for the production of energy, many have raised strenuous objections to the location of solar fields in the Mojave Desert.
The Bureau’s decision was hailed by a number of environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association. The Silurian Valley lies along the main scenic route between two desert national parks.
First District San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood told the Sentinel, “We need to be very careful in locating renewable energy projects,” Lovingood said. “We have listened to our constituents that these projects should first be located on already-disturbed land rather than on beautiful, untouched desert near the gateway to Death Valley.”
Jim Kenna, the BLM’s California director, made the decision, concluding the project would degrade the quality of “a largely undisturbed valley that supports wildlife” and would have industrialized 24 square miles of desert land.
Iberdrola Renewables had sought a variance in obtaining permission to build the project.
In reaction to Kenna’s action, Iberdrola stated it was weighing whether to appeal the decision to the U. S. Department of the Interior.
“It is unfortunate that the variance process is enabling unsubstantiated discretion in advance of a proper National Environmental Policy Act review that should be based on clear and understandable predictable requirements,” the statement said.