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Another Solar Power Plant Delayed

Calico Solar Project Remains on Hold

By Sam Schrader   

On Monday, three environmental groups announced they will sue the federal government over the construction of a solar power plant in the Mojave desert in California due to fear of harming the habitats of protected wildlife.

The planned 663.5-megawatt Calico solar station would be on 7.2-square miles of government-owned land that also happens to be the natural habitat of the desert tortoise, the golden eagle and other protected animals.

This is just the latest set back for the clandestine Calico solar station. Over the course of seven years, the multibillion-dollar project has had three different operators.

Quick backstory: back in 2005, Stirling Energy Systems, an Arizona-based start signed the contract to sell 850 megawatts to be generated by 30,000 solar dishes. In 2010 the plan was finally OK’ed by the California Energy Commission, but new operator Tessera (a subsidiary of NTR) decided to scale back the order to 663.5 megawatts due to these very environmental concerns raised by the Sierra Club.

The problem was that even scaling back on the order didn’t appease the Sierra Club, who still threatened litigation in 2010. Tessera got scared off and sold the project to a New York-based firm K Road Power, which decided to replace the solar dishes with photovoltaic panels.

Again, the Sierra Club did not approve, which takes us to last Monday when it filed suit against the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Department of the Interior in federal district court in California. The Sierra Club is arguing the government violated environmental law by not taking the desert tortoise into consideration when allowing the Calico solar plant to use the land.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time the desert tortoise has caused the disruption of solar plant construction. BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah 337-megawatt solar power plant, which is now under construction 45 miles away from Las Vegas, was initially halted in September 2010 due to biologists discovering about 32 desert tortoises on the property. The construction was allowed to continue after the tortoises were relocated.

Of the nine large-scale solar power plants approved on state and federal levels in 2010, five are currently under litigation.

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