287 MW PV plant in California approved despite objections

Soda Mountain solar project managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California was approved by the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) at the end of March. Once completed, the 287 MW solar facility in the Mojave Desert is expected to generate enough electricity to power more than 86,000 households.

"Today’s approval is the result of a comprehensive, multi-year environmental review and extensive consultation process, including scientific analysis and meaningful mitigation measures to reduce potential impacts to resources," said Janice Schneider, DOI’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, yesterday, when the approval for Soda Mountain PV project was officially announced.

U.S.’s National Park Conservation Association (NPCA), however, disagrees with the DOI’s conclusion. In the statement published on its official website, the association refers to the Soda Mountain PV project as “the most controversial renewable energy proposal in the region”.

“In an incredibly disappointing move, the Administration approved this harmful renewable energy project that is devoid of public support and contradicts its own scientists and policies,” the head of the association Theresa Pierno said in the statement. “We will continue to fight this decision and work to protect this pristine, beautiful, wildlife-rich landscape.”

Ecologists note that Soda Mountain project will be built near the third-largest national park site in the lower 48 states, Mojave National Preserve. This area is home for animals that are listed for protection, including desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, kit fox, burrowing owl, and American badger. Theresa Pierno warns that the future renewable plant will inhibit the national park wildlife from migrating and adapting to the changing climate.

According to NPCA, the Soda Mountain solar project has been facing criticism from ecologists since it was first proposed in 2007. Meanwhile, BLM points out that it spent more than three years consulting and working with a variety of stakeholders, federal and state partners to ensure the minimum impact of the project on wildlife and environment in the area.

In January this year, DOI’s fish and wildlife service issued a paper, which analyzes the potential effect of the proposed project on the federally threatened desert tortoise. According to the paper, Soda Mountain PV plant can be built and operated with a minimum impact on the local wildlife, if BLM implements certain protective measures. For example, the developer is required to implement an environmental awareness program for all workers and employ authorized biologists to oversee the construction process.