California Tosses Out Solar Power Plant Lawsuit

(Reuters) – California’s supreme court refused to consider a lawsuit filed by an influential environmental group seeking to delay construction of a solar plant because it might harm rare plant and animal species.

The state supreme court said it would not review the Sierra Club’s complaint against the Calico Solar Project — one of a string of lawsuits accusing solar power plant projects across the largest U.S. state of harming the environment.

The court offered no explanation. In its complaint, America’s oldest environmental organization argued to the courts that the California Energy Commission had approved the Calico project improperly, failing to take into account potential harm to native flora and fauna.

The commission cheered the ruling, while the Sierra Club said it would wait and see before taking further action. Complicating things, the project had recently changed hands — from original developer NTR’s Tessera Solar to K Road Sun, an arm of a New York-based investment firm.

David Graham-Caso, a spokesman for the environmental group, said the new developers may use different technology that might alter projections of how the giant project could impact the natural habitats of species like the desert tortoise and big-horned sheep. He said the group would keep a close eye on the project’s evolution under new management.

“We support well-planned projects. This was not one of them,” Graham said. “Different technology affects the land in different ways.”

Conflicts between solar proponents and foes are taking on growing importance as the industry experiences a boom, particularly for California.

Other companies with plants under development that are raising environmental concerns include First Solar Inc and SunPower Corp.

The Sierra Club’s lawsuit charged regulators failed to fully mitigate the project’s impact on rare plant and animal species, and asked the court to void approval and permits.

It was one of a string of suits targeting planned solar plants, potentially setting back the development of solar energy and derailing state and federal commitments to lessening dependence on fossil fuels.

In December, a group called La Cuna de Aztlan, which represents Native American groups such as the Chemehuevi and the Apache, filed a challenge in federal court to the federal government’s approval of six big solar plants. That same month, the Quechan Indian tribe won an injunction blocking construction of the Imperial Valley solar project, under development near California’s border with Mexico.

The Calico plant was under development by Tessera until the company sold the plant last month to K Road Sun, a subsidiary of New York investment firm K Road Power.

Last year, just three new utility-scale solar plants serving California came online, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. Now, there are more than 40 plants with contracts or pending contracts with the state’s utilities under development.

While fostering renewable energy has become an important federal and state goal, proposed plants are meeting increasing resistance from groups that believe the plants will do irreparable harm to threatened or endangered plants and animals or historic areas.

The ruling “is a boon for California’s economy and could pave the way for hundreds of construction and operator jobs over the next several years,” California Energy Commission chair Robert Weisenmiller said in a statement.

Article by Nichola Groom and Edwin Chan; Edited by Bernard Orr and Richard Chang; appearing courtesy Reuters.

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