BrightSource vs the environmentalists

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Solar company BrightSource says it employs between 60 and 100 biologists at any one time to make sure the animals and plants in the Mojave desert surrounding its inaugural 392 MW solar thermal plant, Ivanpah, are unharmed. Biologists slowly comb the area, dig deep burrows for desert tortoises, and tag animals with radio chips, according to a just released video from BrightSource (see below).

The video is likely a response to a group of environmentalists, who haven’t been quiet in their reaction to the company building the massive solar plant, which uses mirrors to concentrate the suns rays across six square miles, in an area that an estimated 140 desert tortoises call home. Just last month, about a dozen protestors reportedly picketed outside of BrightSource’s Oakland, Calif. headquarters.

BrightSource was also forced to temporarily halt working on phases 2 and 3 of Ivanpah after finding more desert tortoises on the project site than previously anticipated. BrightSource noted the suspension in an S-1 filing in April, and the company is planning to raise $250 million in an IPO. Phase 1 of Ivanpah is already under construction. BrightSource began building the project in earnest last October and expects to complete it by 2013.

Project delays typically cost money, and BrightSource will likely need to spend more money to accommodate the tortoises. BrightSource has a $66.5 million reserve that can cover budget overruns, but after that amount, BrightSource needs to foot the bill for going over budget. The company still expects to complete Ivanpah in 2013, a spokesman wrote us in an email late last month.

Update: Keely Wachs, BrightSource’s spokesman says: “Ivanpah is proving that we can do both: build our nation’s clean energy infrastructure and protect wildlife. The project is setting the bar when it comes to desert tortoise care.”

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