BrightSource And Fish & Game Near $20 Million Tortoise Habitat Deal

(August 3)  Oakland-based BrightSource Energy Company, which is constructing a massive solar power facility at Ivanpah in northeastern San Bernardino County, and the California Department of Fish and Game are on the verge of working out a $20 million land deal that would allow the company  to offset damages to the habitat of the endangered desert tortoise, thus allowing the project to proceed.
According to both state and federal officials, desert tortoises are threatened with extinction.
Under the terms tentatively worked out, BrightSource is to contribute the money to a state habitat land-bank fund, thereby getting credit for preserving about 7,100 acres of desert tortoise habitat that the state has preserved since 2010 by funding grants to conservation land trusts.
Some $10 million of the money BrightSource is to put up would be used for administrative costs associated with the state’s land grant program and the other $10 million would go toward an endowment for managing and monitoring land as wildlife habitat.
The habitat parcels being purchased are located throughout the western Mojave Desert. In some cases, the parcels lie more than 100 miles from BrightSource’s solar plant now under construction in the Ivanpah Valley off Interstate 15 near the Nevada border. That preserved habitat includes a concentration of  parcels northeast of Kramer Junction between U.S. 395 and Harper Lake; an area north of Joshua Tree National Park east of Yucca Valley; and in Hidden Valley between Barstow and the Mojave National Preserve.
A condition of the California Energy Commission’s October 2010 approval of the solar power facility on 5.6 acres of public land was that BrightSource preserve 7,164 acres of desert tortoise habitat. BrightSource sought to meet that mandate by acquiring mining interests in the Castle Mountains in the eastern Mojave and preventing any activities thereon that would threaten the species. The state rejected that proposal, holding that the area was not heavily populated by tortoises. The state extended an April 2012 deadline for the company to acquire such habitat until next January.
BrightSource earlier committed to meeting the state mandate by placing $34 million into an escrow account to cover whatever costs a tortoise habitat protection regime will entail. Simultaneously, the company is coordinating with federal Bureau of Land Management officials to protect tortoises by fencing roads and taking care that tortoise habitat at its site is not disturbed.
The Ivanpah solar power facility is located on approximately 3,500 acres of federal land in San Bernardino County’s  Mojave Desert overseen  by the U.S. Department of the Interior‘s Bureau of Land Management. The 377 megawatt net output facility consists of  thousands of computer guided mirrors capable of tracking the sun and three separate solar thermal power towers upon which the sun’s rays will be focused, creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. Once constructed, the facility will produce enough clean energy to power 140,000 homes.
The project’s first phase will be completed and be producing power by early next year.
Federal officials, including President Barack Obama, have cited the project as a forward leap in reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and on that basis facilitated its “fast track” approval.
Some 2,400 megawatts of the power generated from the solar plant will be sold under separate contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), with PG&E  purchasing approximately 1,600 megawatts of the power generated at Ivanpah and SCE purchasing approximately 800 megawatts.
Prior to ground-breaking on the project, surveys commissioned by the company found 16 tortoises in the project area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to move a maximum of 38 tortoises to facilitate project development. But after more tortoises than were expected were found in the path of heavy machinery last year, the company was ordered to temporarily stop construction. Federal officials have moved to reassess the situation and issue a new permit.
In total, 76 adult and about 52 juvenile tortoises have been captured at the site to date, and another 50 have hatched in captivity, according to Bureau of Land Management biologists.
The tortoises in Ivanpah are classified as genetically unique and biologists accordingly are intent on preserving as many as possible at that site.  In certain respects, the preservation work being done at the solar plant is creating a baseline for environmentalists and biologists, since further development in the area is contemplated, including an airport and high speed train line.

Leave a Reply