Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The dark side of the sun — Soda Mountain Solar project

By Sidney Silliman
The California desert is a uniquely American landscape. The Joshua trees, giant boulder piles, mountain ranges, and night skies brought the adventurous here for decades, and the depiction of our iconic desert landscapes in movies and on television shaped the nation’s view of the West.

Our desert is an important place for recreation. Visitation increases every year as more and more people come to appreciate the spectacular resources and recreation opportunities. More than 3 million people visit our desert national parks alone each year. Many smaller desert communities are building their livelihood around the growth in tourism.

Despite broad public support for maintaining the unique qualities of the desert, the Obama administration continues to make harmful decisions that undermine our public lands, our tourism economy, and our faith in its ability to lead us to a green-energy future without destroying what we value most. The administration just approved an unwanted project, Soda Mountain Solar, above the opposition of local communities, the administration’s scientists, the National Park Service and tens of thousands of Americans. The opposition to the decision is intense. Desert folks are disgusted with an administration that continues to put projects in bad places even as it assures us it will do better.  Despite two national planning processes for renewable energy taking years and costing untold millions of dollars, the administration is permitting another bad project to roll forward.

Soda Mountain Solar is the most controversial renewable energy project in the country. The power plant is proposed to be sited directly adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve, a remarkable national park. The project will harm desert bighorn sheep, kit fox, burrowing owl and desert tortoise even though the project technology can easily site it elsewhere. Soda Mountain Solar does not have a buyer for its energy. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rejected the enormous economic cost and environmental harm of Soda Mountain. Other power agencies repeatedly refuse to buy the power.

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