Imperial Valley: Native rights overwrite solar project

A federal judge, Larry A. Burns, has granted the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation’s motion to halt the development, asserting that the tribe was not consulted thoroughly about the planned solar project in Imperial Valley. The tribe filed a litigation against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). According to Burns, the law states that Native Americans are entitled to a ‘special consideration’ when an agency is fulfilling its consultation requirements for development of a land. This of course, leads to the question of whether more of such delays can happen to other solar projects planned across the country.

Tessera Solar’s CEO Robert Lukefahr released a statement saying: "This ruling sets back our ability to provide clean, renewable power to Southern California and delays our ability to bring jobs and economic development to a region with the highest unemployment rate in America. It is especially troubling given the very lengthy and comprehensive permitting and consultation process that Tessera Solar and the BLM have undertaken to ensure that Imperial Valley Solar would meet or exceed all Federal and State guidelines to minimize impact on the desert land where this is located."

The project had already received approval from the state and federal governments and Tessera Solar was ready to build the plant on 6,140 acres (approximately 25 square kilometers) of public and 360 acres (approximately 1.5 square kilometers) of private land. 28,000 solar concentrator dishes were planned for the area. Each was to be 40 feet high and wide (approximately 12 meters). One the one hand, there is a dire need for the U.S. to push its solar projects ahead. On the other, there are issues other than environmental impact assessments and site suitabilities to consider when approvals are handed out. Changes to plans in the eleventh hour only lead to frustration and external costs.

The site that was chosen is mostly made up of recreational desert zones and public land gazetted by the Bureau of Land Management and set aside for agricultural, residential, industrial and recreational uses, according to the California Energy Commission. The area has been agreed by both sides to be a cultural resource site that have ancient trails and with a strong Native American history.