This cute desert tortoise enjoying the sun and flowers needs to move in order to make way for a new kind of flora in the Mojave desert: very environmentally friendly solar panel trees. Environmental regulations and countless required studies usually stymie the development of large-scale industrial projects, especially in pristine habitats of sensitive critters (and in California in general). However, “the looming expiration of crucial federal financial support for the multi-billion-dollar projects, though, could turn the boom to bust.” State approval of Mojave desert solar power farms is being fast-tracked in order to qualify for federal money, which will disappear due to the stimulus spigot being turned off, and the fact that the country is broke.
The scale of each “suncatcher”, the number going to be installed, and the vast amount of acreage required for each farm is simply astounding. Yet, the presence of federally threatened desert tortoises is not enough to stop the project; they’ll simply be moved somewhere else, and chances of survival are admittedly very low (see below). I wonder if the Central Valley farmers who are suffering from lack of water due to the Delta smelt will get fast track approval to use their barren moonscape farms for these same solar plants? How can the cute tortoises stand in the way of Progress and reducing carbon footprints?
From the Reptile Channel:
Supporters of BrightSource’s project, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, say the benefits of the project outweigh the potential negative environmental impact. According to BrightSource’s website, the solar thermal power plant will generate 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction and prevent 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
From the La Times on the “tortoise roundup”:
Federal wildlife biologists said it was needed to make way for construction of BrightSource Energy’s 3,280-acre, 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System.
Without the roundup, an estimated 17 federally threatened tortoises — and an unknown number of half-dollar-sized hatchlings — in the 913-acre initial phase of the project would have been squashed by heavy equipment.
A total 36 adult tortoises are believed to inhabit the project site. “We can never say we got them all out of there — these are cryptic creatures,” said Roy Murray of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery office.
Under a plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as many tortoises as possible will be captured, weighed, measured, photographed, blood tested, fitted with radio transmitters and housed in quarantine pens with artificial burrows.
The tortoises will remain in the pens until they can be transported and released in natural settings elsewhere in the region determined to be free of disease and predators — a process expected to take several months.
Tortoise translocation is still an experimental strategy with a dismal track record. In previous efforts, transported tortoises have shown a tendency to wander, sometimes for miles, often back toward the habitat in which they were found. The stress of handling and adapting to unfamiliar terrain renders the reptiles vulnerable to potentially lethal threats: predation by dogs, ravens and coyotes; respiratory disease, dehydration and being hit by vehicles.
Here is more information about the absolutely stunning scale of these solar farms:
Resembling a giant mirrored satellite receiver, each Suncatcher stands 40 feet tall and 38 feet wide with a Stirling engine suspended on an arm over the center of the dish. As the dish tracks the sun, its mirrors concentrate sunlight on the hydrogen gas-filled heat engine. As the superheated gas expands, it drives pistons, which generates 25 kilowatts of electricity.
Now imagine planting 26,540 Suncatchers on 4,613 acres of federal land for the Calico project.
This is the result of AB32, the global warming law California still has on the books (Prop 23), which mandates the state receive an increasing percentage of electricity from renewable sources and a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020. Thousands of acres of these Suncatchers are required to meet those goals, regardless of whatever threatened species get in the way.