On August 4, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy Inc. got the thumbs up from the California Energy Commission to develop the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), the world’s largest solar energy project.
The project has been fraught with difficulties since inception. In late 2009, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) tried to block solar power projects in the Mojave Desert because it was critical habitat for a number of species, including the desert tortoise.
For a while, it looked like the tortoise was in the lead, and BrightSource might have to shelve its plans. Then BrightSource found a compromise position, scaling back plans from 400 MW to the 392 MW plan on the drawing board today.
And last week, Oct. 19, California state biologists and contract workers started rounding up all the tortoises they could find, planning to keep the reptiles in pens with artificial burrows before relocating them to desert areas not likely to see construction of any kind.
Environmentalists fear that some tortoises may be missed, and later inadvertently killed by power plant construction. Other tortoises may not be able to adapt to their new home, making them more vulnerable to predators, dehydration and disease.
It’s clearly not a good time to be a tortoise, even an endangered one, and only time will tell if the payoff – massive amounts of clean, renewable energy – was worth the price. Let us know what you think.
About the BrightSource Ivanpah Project
Slated for 3,600 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, the project was formulated as a 400-megawatt (MW, gross power) solar thermal power plant.
Solar thermal power uses mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a central tower, where the intense heat warms water or molten salt up to 1474 degrees Fahrenheit, at which temperature the fluid can be used to generate electricity via steam turbines in what is known as the “Rankine cycle.”
The electricity generated would be purchased by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PGE) and Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), to fulfill a state renewable energy mandate that specifies 20 percent (of electricity from renewables) by the end of this year, and 33 percent by 2020.