Politics

Environmentalists argue against Mojave solar project

Monday, July 25, 2011

Proponents of clean energy are at odds with environmentalists over a solar dispute. At issue is a project backed by Gov. Jerry Brown in the Mojave Desert which is also home to the endangered desert tortoise. It's a fight that has now reached the federal courts.

"Clean and green" are the big environmental buzzwords these days, but some projects come with a cost.

At a conference in Los Angeles, Brown vowed to crush efforts to block renewable energy projects in California, helping them overcome permitting and environmental challenges. He signed a law earlier this year mandating the state get 33 percent of its energy from alternative sources by 2020, including solar energy.

"The sun in California is like the oil in Texas, it's fabulous wealth waiting to be developed," said Brown. "And those who would resist that have to offer a pretty darn good argument for me to give up on solar energy."

Putting money where his mouth is, the governor filed a brief with the federal court asking a judge to deny a request by an environmental group to stop a solar thermal power project in the Mojave Desert. BrightSource Energy and Bechtel want to put up 347,000 heliostat mirrors around three power towers. But the Western Watersheds Project says it'll harm the endangered desert tortoise by destroying its habitat. The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife agrees. The tortoise population is already declining.

"We don't really know, actually, when you clear 10 square miles of desert, how it's going to respond in 30 to 50 years," said Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife. "Likely it's probably not going to go back to the way it used to be and the species that were there, the tortoises and whatever, probably won't go back."

The Mojave solar project is just one example of how tough it is to get green projects off the ground. The delays often mean thousands of jobs are on hold.

"We can have clean energy and preserve the environment. But it's important to get those ground rules set out, work through the proper permits, and do it quickly," said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs. "We can't afford in this economy to have plants held up for years and years."

"There's better places and there's worse places," said Delfino. "And we're really trying to incentivize the companies to go to the better places."

Both sides will say they expect more battles like this one. Solar power is now competitively priced these days, so there will be a push to build more of these installations.

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energy, animals in peril, jerry brown, politics, nannette miranda
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