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More Lawsuits Threaten California Solar Projects

Here comes yet another lawsuit about a giant solar farm in California. Western Watershed Project has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its approval of BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah project in the Mojave Desert.

The lawsuit contends that federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service, didn’t do enough of an environmental review of the 392-megawatt project before approving it last fall. The environmental group wants the agencies to withdraw their approvals.

BrightSource spokesman Keely Wachs said the company has no comment about the lawsuit since it didn’t name the company as a defendant. BrightSource broke ground on Ivanpah last October.

The legal challenge is the latest to highlight the recurring opposition by some environmental groups several solar energy projects that are set to rise in California’s desert in the next few years. The federal government approved nine solar projects in western United States last year.

The California Energy Commission approved nine projects within four months last year, and some of the projects are part of the nine permitted by the federal government within months last year. The speed of approval was so swift that we thought lawsuits seemed inevitable.

Both state and federal agencies said they wanted to approve the projects before Dec. 31, 2010, when a federal grant program that subsidizes renewable energy projects was set to expire. Congress ended up extending the program for another year in late December.

Many of these projects are due to deliver electricity to California’s investor-owned utilities, which need to have 20 percent of their energy supplies from renewable sources by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. Lawmakers also see these projects as job creators.

The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the California Energy Commission last month over the approval of a Calico Solar project. The lawsuit argued that the commission didn’t do enough to minimize the project’s impact on the desert wildlife. Calico was under development by Tessera Solar, which sold it recently to K Road Sun after having trouble raising enough money to build it. K Road plans to line up money and start construction of the 850-megawatt project this year, its spokesman told us.

American Indian tribes also have filed similar legal challenges. A group called La Cuna de Aztlan, which includes Chemehuevi and Apache tribes, filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of six solar farms (including Ivanpah). The group said the government didn’t do enough to protect cultural resources, such as burial sites, while reviewing the solar projects.

Meanwhile, the Quechan Indian Tribe won a temporary injunction in federal court last month to halt the development of the 709-megawatt Imperial Valley solar project, also by Tessera. The tribe said the federal government failed to adequately consult with the tribe about the project’s impact on burial grounds before approving the project.

A group that includes the Audubon Society also is suing to stop a proposed project by Solargen in central California, Reuters reported.

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3 Responses to “More Lawsuits Threaten California Solar Projects”

  1. MidBosque

    How is it that carbon free power generation might be a friendly fire fatality? What a bizarre world that the ESA and NEPA can be used to blight our futures after Valero and Koche fail.

  2. It’s ironic that most of the groups filing lawsuits profess to be all about protecting the environment, yet their actions, if successful, will ultimately cause the burning of more fuels, which harm the environment much more than any of these solar farms will.