Right Idea, Wrong Place: Groups Sue Solar Project to Protect Imperiled Wildlife and Wild Lands

Calico Developers Reject Relocation, Choosing Pristine Wild Lands Over Degraded Sites

SACRAMENTO, CA (March 26, 2012) – The proposed California-based Calico solar project fails to meet basic environmental protection requirements and threatens imperiled wildlife, according to Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. The groups are filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior after failing to reach agreement with the developers and the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move the project to a location without major environmental conflicts.

Over the course of three years, the environmental groups met 10 times with the Bureau of Land Management and Calico’s current and former developers, K-Road Power and Tessera Solar (respectively), to urge the developers and Interior to relocate the project to less environmentally sensitive lands. Some of these options included degraded private agricultural lands near the proposed project that would significantly reduce the project’s impacts and bring it more in line with “smart from the start” principles. All these options were rejected.

The proposed project covers 4,000-plus-acres of vital wildlife habitat in the Mojave Desert's Pisgah Valley – an area four times as large as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – and is located on key desert tortoise habitat that connects several tortoise recovery areas in the region. Building a solar project here, the groups contend, would threaten at least six other imperiled animals and plants, including golden eagles, burrowing owls and Mojave fringe-toed lizard.

Defenders, NRDC and the Sierra Club have previously supported or reached agreements with developers of five of the seven large-scale solar projects approved in California by Interior since 2009. This consensus building effort resulted in better projects that would create almost 3,670 construction jobs, about 525 permanent jobs and nearly 2,600 megawatts of clean power while minimizing impacts on key species and wild lands.

Collaborative solar development efforts among these conservation groups, solar developers and federal, state and local agencies will continue, including a joint effort to help shape Interior’s national solar program that will provide a robust blueprint for successful and responsible solar development on public lands in California and the rest of the West.

Following are statements from leaders of the conservation groups presenting the lawsuit:

“We drew a line in the sand and the Calico solar project crossed it,” said Johanna Wald, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “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.”

“The Pisgah Valley is just too critical for desert tortoise recovery and for a whole suite of important desert species like golden eagles,” said Sierra Club Senior Representative Barbara Boyle. “We need to build renewable energy, but we can find much better places that don’t harm important wildlife and habitat.”

“What’s frustrating about the Calico solar project is that the developer and the Bureau of Land Management can avoid the worst impacts to wildlife by being ‘smart from the start’ and moving the project to degraded agricultural lands near the proposed site,” said Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife’s California program director. “If this project moves forward at this location, Calico will irreversibly harm the sensitive Pisgah Valley and the desert tortoise.”

For more information about the Calico solar project go to http://bit.ly/GKVluH

For more information about solar development on public lands in the west, read Johanna Wald blog at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jwald/