Sierra Club, NRDC file suit against US federal government over development of 663.5MW Calico project

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Earlier this week, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Department of the Interior at federal district court in California to stop construction on the Calico solar project. The suit claims that the government has violated environmental laws by not properly considering the impact of the 663.5MW Calico solar project on the desert tortoise, the golden eagle and other protected wildlife.

In an article for Forbes', Todd Woody noted that Calico has had a varied and complicated history for the past seven years. The project is slated to be built on 7.2 square miles of government-owned land in California’s Mojave Desert. Originally, in 2005, Stirling Energy Systems signed a contract with Southern California Edison to sell up to 850MW of electricity generated by the proposed 30,000 solar dishes installed for the project.

When the California Energy Commission licensed Calico in October 2010, Stirling had been bought by NTR and become part of subsidiary Tessera Solar, a period which also saw the regulators downgrade the project to 663.5MW due to concern over the desert tortoise. Southern California Edison eventually cancelled its contract with Tessera, which was promptly followed by the project being sold to K Road Power; a company which decided to convert the project from concentrating solar thermal technology to PV panels.

In the latest instalment of the saga, attorneys for NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife assert that the site of the Calico project is an endangered and crucial habitat for the desert tortoise, a reptile listed on the federal Endangered Species Act. “Utility‐scale solar development on Bureau lands may rapidly accelerate habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, destruction of wildlife corridors, and population isolation for desert tortoise in this region,” the attorneys wrote. “The Bureau and the Service did not adequately analyze the impacts of the Calico solar project in the context of the cumulative impacts of utility‐scale solar development on public lands even though such development is pending or underway throughout the range of the Mojave population of the desert tortoise and will consume thousands of acres of foraging habitat for golden eagles.”

Woody acknowledged that the Sierra Club, NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife have actually shown support for another large solar project just “down the road” from Calico – the Ivanpah power station. However, it seems that the trio felt that the time had come to put their foot down on the latest large-scale renewable energy project.

“We drew a line in the sand and the Calico solar project crossed it,” Johanna Wald, a senior attorney with NRDC in San Francisco, said in a statement. “My colleagues and I tried very hard to avoid litigation and filed this suit as the last resort. We have focused instead on consensus building to improve as many large-scale solar projects as possible to transition our nation to clean energy sources while protecting wild lands and wildlife. The Calico project, however, is an example of a solar project done wrong from the start.”

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