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Environmental groups sue to stop 664MW Calico Solar

By Benjamin Romano, Recharge

902 days ago   Article ID# 1520479
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Natural Resources Defense Council

OSLO, NORWAY (Recharge) - Three major environmental groups are suing the Department of the Interior to stop Calico Solar, a 663.5MW project proposed by K Road Power on federal land in the Mojave Desert of California.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife are big-name environmental organizations whose explicit support -- or at least acceptance -- of large-scale solar developments in California in recent years have helped them advance. But the groups could not reach a satisfactory agreement with federal permitting officials and developers of the Calico project, which they argue would ruin crucial habitat for the desert tortoise and other wildlife.

"We drew a line in the sand and this project was on the other side," says senior NRDC attorney Johanna Wald.

K-Road, set up in 2002 by a team of energy industry specialists from Sithe Energies and Goldman Sachs and backed by a unit of Barclays last summer for development of its substantial US solar portfolio, did not immediately return requests for comment.

The project, in the Pisgah Valley in San Bernardino County, has a turbulent history. It was originally proposed by Tessera Solar as a concentrated solar project using SunCatcher Stirling dish engines to be manufactured by Tessera's sister company Stirling Energy Systems.

Wald says environmental groups opposed its location from the outset, "although at the beginning we thought there was some possibility that it could be configured in a way that would make it acceptable, but the more we found out about the area, the clearer were its limitations".

In late 2010, Southern California Edison cancelled its power purchase agreement with Tessera for Calico. Then, in early 2011, as Tessera's Dublin-based parent company NTR weathered financial difficulties, Calico was sold to K Road, which proposed to use PV for all but 100MW of the project.

Wald notes that a Department of the Interior (DOI) environmental impact statement on the project "looked briefly at the PV technology as an alternative to the Stirling dish SunCatchers and their analysis suggested that the environmental impacts of PV would be worse". She adds that the decision to sue was "technology neutral".

"This area is not appropriate for large-scale, utility-scale solar projects," Wald says.

The Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the DOI, is completing a process to delineate the best areas for solar energy development on federal land throughout the West. Projects built within these 17 proposed solar energy zones would face an easier permitting process and likely be supported by the NRDC and other groups.

"My hope and conviction is that that approach... will guide development away from unique and sensitive habitats like the Pisgah Valley to low-conflict areas in the zones," Wald says, adding: "It's a strategy that will benefit both solar and wildlife, and it is the way forward for both the companies and for groups like mine, which want to support appropriately cited projects."

Copyright 2014 Recharge   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 902 days ago   Article ID# 1520479

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