Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tortoises Manhandled for Solar Splits Environmentalists

The Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating System
Construction of such large-scale green-energy projects has splintered environmental groups. When concern over global warming was at a peak, national organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council threw their support behind industrial-scale wind and solar installations on public land. Now some smaller conservationist groups object to what they consider an environmentally destructive gold rush. “Of course we need to do solar, but it should go on rooftops or in appropriate places, not the pristine desert,” says April Sall, director of the Wildlands Conservancy in Oak Glen, California, operator of the state’s largest nonprofit preservation system. “We need to tackle warming -- but not forget that there are other things at stake.”  The Mojave solar project embodies the clash of environmental priorities. The $2.2 billion installation being built by closely held BrightSource Energy (BRSE) Inc. of Oakland, California, is designed to power 140,000 homes without emitting greenhouse gases. But it threatens the tortoises. That’s why the Western Watersheds Project conservationist group of Hailey, Idaho, sued to stop it in a Los Angeles U.S. court. (For an interactive graphic of the project, click here.)  The 120-year-old Sierra Club, which calls itself “America’s largest and most influential” environmental group, also lobbied for changes to the project’s design to protect the tortoises. Yet the 1.4 million-member organization chose not to try to block the plant, says Barbara Boyle, a Sierra green energy specialist. “Ultimately, we need to jump-start renewables to combat climate change, and large-scale solar has to play a big part in that,” Boyle says...more

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