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Staff photo by Karen Jonas
View of the Abengoa Mojave Solar site from the southern end of the project. A biologist trained some Abengoa Mojave Solar employees on proper procedures to avoid harming wildlife on Wednesday. More than 13 miles of tortoise fencing on the property was recently completed.

Federal loans for energy projects drying up

The Department of Energy announced earlier this week that it will only be considering loans for renewable energy projects that have the strongest chance of beginning construction before the Sept. 30 deadline this year and have already finished their loan applications.

The department has been offering loans to commercial renewable energy projects under its Section 1705 loan guarantee and has given out 19 loan guarantees or conditional commitments that total $11 billion in investment, said Department of Energy Director of Loan Programs Jonathan Silver on the Department of Energy website Tuesday. BrightSource Energy has already received one of the loans for its Ivanpah project.

In his posting, Silver said some projects that have already applied for the program will not be able to receive funding this year, but said those applications will be put on hold and may be considered for further loans if there are more funds available in the future. Silver also wrote that some projects may be eligible for a different loan aimed at renewable energy projects — Section 1703 — but commercial projects are ineligible for those funds.

Solar workers learn about protecting wildlife

Abengoa Mojave Solar employees working at the site of a future 250 megawatt solar facility near Harper Dry Lake in Hinkley learned about protecting desert tortoises and other wildlife during a presentation on Wednesday.

Construction on the $1.25 billion project should begin before Sept. 30, said Scott Frier, Chief Operating Officer of Abengoa Solar Inc. on Tuesday. The 1,765-acre project will power up to 80,000 homes once it is completed and will use parabolic solar trough technology — which tracks the sun and allows for storage.

Frier said the land for the project was chosen to specifically avoid desert tortoise populations. Only two tortoises were found in the area during the biological surveys, although there are larger tortoise populations found to the east and west.

Because of concerns for the wildlife at the site, everyone working on the project has to undergo Worker Environmental Awareness Program training, said Frier. Peggy Wood, the designated biologist for the Mojave project, said Wednesday that workers can follow a few basic rules to make sure that tortoises and other wildlife are disturbed as little as possible throughout the project.

Wood said solar workers have to stay on designated roads and drive 25 mph on Harper Lake Road and 15 mph on unpaved access roads so they can see wildlife in time to avoid it.

Workers will also have to check underneath their cars for wildlife such as snakes and tortoises that may have used the vehicles for shelter from the sun, said Wood.

Wood added that workers won’t be allowed to run over any shrubs because animals could be using them for shelter. As part of the training, workers are told to avoid touching wildlife and call Wood when they see an animal that could be in danger. Tortoises should never be picked up unless in an emergency because they might urinate and waste valuable fluids, said Wood.

A biologist will be on site throughout the construction period to make sure that wildlife remains unharmed.

Two tortoises have been found in the project area since the fencing began and both have since left the project boundaries, said Wood. Because the biologists on site don’t have federal authority to touch the tortoises yet, biologists tracked both tortoises without touching or disturbing them, said Wood. One female adult tortoise is still being tracked and has moved about three miles to the north — well beyond the project boundary, said Wood.

More than 13 miles of tortoise fencing has been completed on the project, said Frier. The project received an interim allowance that allowed them to put up the tortoise fencing. Wood said that some of the tortoise fencing is temporary because biologists don’t want to disturb breeding wildlife, such as kit foxes, long-eared owls, and great horned owls. Once the breeding animals have left the area, the fences will be made permanent.

Abengoa is currently in the first phase of its application for a federal loan from the Department of Energy, said Frier. Frier said Tuesday that he knew about the situation with the Department of Energy loans, but is optimistic about his project’s loan application. He added that Abengoa has a different strategy for the project and wants to use privately owned land that had been previously disturbed in order to avoid wildlife populations instead of using Bureau of Land Management lands.

The project is expected to provide about 1,100 construction jobs at its peak and 68 permanent jobs, said Frier. The project has signed an agreement with California Unions for Reliable Energy for labor, said Frier.

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