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Agency will look at energy sites' effects on tortoises

A revised recovery plan for Mojave desert tortoises was released last Thursday, but a specific chapter on recovery on alternative energy sites is still in the works.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services published its revisions to the 1994 Recovery Plan for the Mojave Population of the Desert Tortoise, a species that has been considered “threatened” since 1990. Cat Darst, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, said there is no evidence that the population decline trend has reversed since 1990.

The biggest strategy change will be new regional teams made up of various agencies — like the Wildlife Services and Bureau of Land Management — that will regularly coordinate tortoise protection in specific areas. Desert Tortoise Recovery Coordinator Roy Averill-Murray said these regional teams will also work with energy projects.

“Hopefully we can make a more efficient use of (tortoise) recovery by coordinating between agencies,” he said.

The 246-page plan does not have a chapter on specifically protecting tortoises on alternative energy sites, but Averill-Murray said that is the next step. The introduction to the plan recommends that even without specific guidelines, alternative energy sites should still make an effort to choose sites that aren’t areas critical to the tortoise population.

Darst is currently researching ways to mitigate desert tortoise population impact specifically on solar energy sites. She is leading a research project to create a resource for agencies like the BLM to use when analyzing a solar project site’s impact on the desert tortoise.

“Solar energy put in the wrong place is a threat to the desert tortoise,” Darst said.

Along with two researchers from Redlands University, Darst will conduct research through 2013 that will analyze how various factors can decrease the impact on tortoise populations.

Some of the actions being studied include tortoise fencing, increased law enforcement, and environmental education.

Calico moving forward on glint and glare study

Calico Solar said a report on potential glint and glare caused by the project should be completed by November.

The pending report is in response to complaints from BNSF Railway that the glare from the 8,230-acre site wlll cause rail employees to miss important signals or look away from the railway.

“The glint and glare study is a key component of ensuring the project is designed and built in a manner that will not have an impact on the safety of our employees,” wrote BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent in an e-mail.

K Road Power, which owns Calico Solar, wrote in a status memo to the California Energy Commission last week that the third party conducting the research — POWER Engineers — will visit the site soon to verify the height of railway signals near the project. It should take about nine weeks after that visit for the report to be completed, the memo said.

The report also discussed how Calico met with the Bureau of Land Management on Aug. 9 to move forward on amending the application originally filed under the previous project owner, Tessera Solar. K Road will use mostly photovoltaic modules instead of the originally planned SunCatcher technology. According to an Aug. 5 memo from K Power, the PV modules are only nine feet tall compared to the 40-feet tall SunCatchers, and this change will decrease visibility problems of the project.

Calico will generate energy for 350,000 homes when completed.

Scoping meeting scheduled for Stateline Solar

A scoping meeting will be held Wednesday about the new Stateline Solar Farm, a 350 megawatt solar project that should serve about 100,000 homes when completed. The proposed site is two miles from the Nevada border, close to the Ivanpah Solar Project already under construction. The agency will use any comments to draft an environmental impact statement on the 5,540-acre project, which will use photovoltaic technology.

Oakland-based First Solar Development Inc. applied for the project in Dec. 2006. First Solar Development is part of First Solar, an international solar development company. Construction should take two and a half years.

The meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 6-9 p.m. at the Primm Valley Golf Club at 1 Yates Well Road in Nipton.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or smitchell@desertdispatch.com


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