Solar facility, © NREL

Two Too Many Development Projects in the Ivanpah Valley

Silver State South and Stateline Solar are not the kind of wildlife-friendly renewable energy projects we need

As you drive on Interstate Highway 15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles and look across the Ivanpah Valley, you can see the small town of Primm, a golf course, some power lines and a massive solar project, the Brightsource Ivanpah project. But, it’s what you can’t see from the highway that makes the Ivanpah Valley so significant—thousands of desert tortoises hunkered down in their burrows, or slowly making their way along washes in search of food or a friend.

Back in November, we wrote about the cumulative impacts of energy development and infrastructure projects on sensitive desert ecosystems in the Mojave. California and Nevada’s Ivanpah Valley is one of the most important areas of suitable habitat in the Mojave desert for the beleaguered and threatened desert tortoise. It has also gradually become a hotbed for solar energy development, so much so that the region’s ability to support wildlife is being compromised. This is especially problematic for tortoises which depend on the valley as a critical link between conservation and recovery areas. Unfortunately, the tortoises’ future here and throughout the Northeastern Recovery Unit (a designated tortoise recovery area which contains the Ivanpah Valley) is in jeopardy.

Desert tortoise, © Beth Jackson/FWS

Planning ahead for solar energy development in the desert Southwest can allow us to develop solar projects in the right places while protecting essential habitat for the Desert tortoise.

Just a little more than two weeks ago, Brightsource “turned on” their Ivanpah Solar Project with great fanfare. This project destroyed more than 3,500 acres – nearly 5 ½ square miles – of desert tortoise habitat. And, while the Brightsource Solar project had significant negative impacts on desert tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley, it seems the worst may be yet to come. Last week the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved two large, utility-scale solar projects that would destroy more than 4,000 more acres of desert tortoise habitat in the valley. Despite Defenders’ recommendations and cautions about the environmental impacts of the Silver State and Stateline Solar projects, the BLM ignored our – and others’ – protests and decided instead to roll the dice on the fate of the tortoise.

The combined Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects are examples of the kind of renewable energy development that does not take wildlife into account, or properly plan to have the least impact possible on imperiled wildlife; they are a body blow to the threatened tortoises and habitat in the region. The Stateline Solar Project is located immediately adjacent to the Brightsource Solar Project, and the Silver State South Solar Project is located just up the highway in Nevada, beside yet another project, the Silver State North Solar Project. When these two projects are added to those that already exist, the result will essentially be an impenetrable wall of development cutting across the heart of the Ivanapah Valley.

Because the Ivanpah Valley is largely isolated from other recovery units in the region, it is critical that tortoise populations in the northern part of the Ivanpah Valley are able to reach those in the southern part, and that landscape-scale habitat linkages connecting to the other recovery units are not jeopardized. The locations of Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects would interrupt these linkages, degrade and fragment habitat, and displace or kill up to 2,115 tortoises. Especially problematic in this case is the fact that these projects are planned in an area known to be particularly vibrant habitat with healthy tortoises. Despite Defenders’ repeated communications to the developer, First Solar, about the impacts of these projects on the tortoise and other wildlife, the developers failed to relocate the projects to lands already degraded or less critical to the animals.

Solar facility, © NREL

Silver State South and Stateline Solar would destroy over 4,000 more acres of habitat critical to the survival of the desert tortoise.

And so, Defenders has now had no choice but to turn to the courts to reject the BLM’s approvals of these projects because they violate the protections given to tortoises under the Endangered Species Act. That is, no project should be approved if it is going to compromise the future of a threatened species.

While these projects most definitely directly impact a species that has been identified as threatened and is dependent on the habitat where they would be built, Silver State South and Stateline’s approval is most troubling for a bigger reason. You see, this isn’t just an issue for the Ivanpah Valley. Developers and agencies need to be conscious of how and where they plan energy projects all across the country. They need to look at renewable energy planning with a landscape-wide lens, understanding that building in the right places and making an effort to minimize environmental impacts from the start are essential.

Defenders of Wildlife supports renewable energy development and believes that we have a real opportunity to develop clean, sustainable sources like solar and wind – but we mustn’t do it at the cost of our treasured lands and wildlife. As our Director of California Programs Kim Delfino said, “we don’t have to choose between protecting imperiled wildlife and encouraging clean, renewable energy. All we have to do is plan smart from the start and move proposed projects to low-conflict areas, something the BLM and the Service failed to do when they approved the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.”

Courtney Sexton is a Communications Associate for Defenders of Wildlife

13 Responses to “Two Too Many Development Projects in the Ivanpah Valley”

  1. Candy Leone

    Had a similar problem here in Florida in 2000 when FWC approved land developers to bury the gopher tortoises in their dens. Even after making them survey how many tortoises lived on the grounds. I made copies of the news article and submitted it to all the wildlife groups which after being found out about raised a huge uproar where now they are protected and are oked to be relocated. How. Sad that people around the world think wildlife should just be considered collateral damaged

    Reply
  2. Gail Collins

    I value our wildlife and planet so much and wish everyone else did, too. BLM, STOP and THINK! Think about our future generations in a world where animals are only pictured in books. Please, find another more wildlife friendly place. We need big changes in our energy resources but not at the expense of our precious wildlife.

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  3. Frank Sinohui

    This is a very biased article here, having been employed on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station for almost 2 years, I can tell you that the safety and well being of the tortoises are definitely taken into consideration on these projects. We worked along side many biologists who made sure tortoises weren’t harmed and educated us to be aware of their surroundings, burrows, and any other indicators so we could alert the biologists and remove them safely into an area they wouldn’t be harmed. And from what I recall in our safety meetings, tortoises were never harmed purposely or on accident, the few casualties they had where from a respiratory illness.

    Reply
  4. Ellen Kenney

    Solar panels belong on rooftops and over parking lots. keep open space open.

    Reply
  5. Doesn't matter

    You are kidding me right? Have you even been to the Ivanpah job site?? I have worked there over 2 years and there are numerous agencies out there protecting every species. Souch so that the workers have to go through training constantly to make sure we dont harm anything. You have a problem with a solar job in the valley? So the freeway an the casinos, mall, restaurants and gas stations are ok? Hypocrites!!! Isn’t the whole Mohave technically the tortoise habitat? Where should we build? BLM is VERY cautious about the animals in and around the job site. Get your damn facts straight before you bash things. Crybabies

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  6. janie anderson

    so sad, once again an agency that’s supposed to be dedicated to our land management could care less about there job, obviously the only thing they are concerned with is the almighty dollar, we have laws for a reason but most gov’t agency’s are more concerned with what the major corp’s want and to hell with reason and sanity, will we ever get rid of the people in gov’t who seem to think they have special rights to do as they and the corp’s want, don’t worry about wildlife just plow ahead, after all we can do what we want and who cares to stop us. I for one am tired of the destructive objectives of our gov’t were wildlife is concerned wildlife has rights and we all need to start protecting the innocent.

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  7. romy

    couldnt they just make crawl spaces under those solaar panels for the turtles to hide under and be safe? Since we took all the land from them?

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  8. amy

    I just wanted to say its great that they are working with biologists at these solar projects to keep the number of animals killed or injured as low as possible. The problem is habitat fragmentation. The desert tortoise has a huge range in order to survive in the mojove. Habitat fragmentation will decrease the population over time, regardless of steps taken during construction.

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  9. Shaun

    I am glad Defenders is taking this action to protect this critical desert tortoise habitat. It doesn’t matter how much these solar companies invest in “mitigation” or on caring for displaced tortoises; what matters is that we protect the integrity of the habitat in the first place so that the species has the best chance of survival over the long-term. It’s easier for solar companies to build on already-disturbed lands than for tortoises to recover from the loss of such important habitat.

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  10. John Yanker

    I think what separates the north and south tortoises IS interstate 15 not the power plants.

    Reply
  11. Siliggy

    If this tortoise used to live with buffalo long ago does it need cattle now? Is it eating things that grow in the cow manure? Oh and in order to prevent the pollution that solar and wind factories make in China why not invest in tomorrows oxygen by creating some more plant and tree feeding dioxide today instead? It allows plants to feed the tortoise. Best to get that gas and oil out of the ground before a quake helps it find it’s own way out in a big lethal belch too. Keep working to prevent our planet from becoming like Neptune’s moon Triton which is polluted by methane and carbon monoxide because there are no humans there to prevent the abiotic fossil fuels from growing unchecked.

    Reply
  12. Holly Bell

    I live in the Mohave Desert. I was going to join this organization, until I looked at the board of directors, and qualifications for a job. Being here during the squabble between the rancher and BLM, enlightened me about the horror of Agenda 21. I will do anything to help endangered creatures, at the same time I will do everything AND anything to save the American people against the communistic propositions and implementation of the horror of Agenda 21.

    Reply

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