July 31, 2013

Cadiz water project should get a federal review

San Bernardino Sun

Rep. Paul Cook's call for a federal review of the proposed Cadiz water project is perfectly reasonable -- despite protestations by the company planning to pump water from a Mojave Desert aquifer and the water district that would get most of the water.

For one thing, the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project hopes to use railroad right-of-way that crosses federal land for a 43-mile section of pipeline, which could give the federal government purview. But much more importantly, the project has potential impacts on nearby, protected federal lands.

Cadiz, Inc., aims to "harvest" water from an aquifer under land it owns in the Cadiz Valley and sell it to Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County and other water districts. The idea is to provide a new, reliable source of water for about 100,000 homes and, of course, a profit for Cadiz, Inc. Claremont-based Three Valleys Municipal Water District, San Dimas-based Golden State Water Co., Covina-based Suburban Water Systems and Jurupa Community Services District could all get some of the water, as could San Bernardino County.

Santa Margarita Water District certified the project under state environmental law, and San Bernardino County approved a groundwater management and monitoring plan. The water district has a vested interest in the project going forward; the county says it does not. The county has OK'd up to $1.5 million in legal fees to defend against lawsuits challenging the project, but Cadiz, Inc. has agreed to cover those costs.

Cadiz, Inc., and the Santa Margarita district both said a federal review would be superfluous and wasteful. A spokesman said the county is taking no position on Cook's call for a review.

Cook's letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, sent in June but made public last week, cites "serious doubts about the validity of previous environmental studies," particularly claims by Cadiz that 32,500 acre-feet of recharge per year will refill the aquifer. Independent scientists put the recharge rate between 2,000 and 10,000 acre-feet per year, notes the Apple Valley Republican -- which would mean the project could pump the aquifer dry.

Cook worries that the pumping could harm springs in the nearby Mojave Natural Preserve, because groundwater flows from under the preserve to replenish the aquifer. Cook also cites possible harm to his desert district's constituents, including ranchers, rural communities, landowners and a company that mines salts from Bristol Dry Lake.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year made a similar request for a federal review.

There are safeguards against over-pumping in the county-approved groundwater management plan. But it's much harder to undo damage to the desert than it is to figure out the right approach ahead of time.

Using water from the remote aquifer -- water that otherwise would be lost to evaporation -- to supplement urban supplies sounds good. But not if excess withdrawals might lay waste to the Mojave Desert's wildlife and resources. Interior should heed Cook's request that the U.S. Geologic Survey analyze the project area's hydrology and make sure the pumping would be sustainable.

July 30, 2013

The Drying of the West

Dams and other engineering helped provide water throughout the arid region for decades. It's no longer enough.

More frequent and intense droughts in the West may result in legal battles over the allocation of Colorado River water. Above, the river's Horseshoe Bend in Page, Ariz. (Matt York / Associated Press)

By William deBuys
Los Angeles Times

John Wesley Powell, whose legendary descent of the Colorado River in 1869 brought the one-armed explorer fame and celebrity, worried about America's westward migration. The defining characteristic of Western lands was their aridity, he wrote, and settlement of the West would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.

He was half right.

The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society's thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you'd hardly know it.

By the late 20th century, Western Americans had created a miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels and diversions, the West had been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It had acquired the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process its liquid resources were stretched far beyond anything Powell might have imagined.

Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West's great waterways, provides water to about 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.

Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of the Colorado Basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river, with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry, Ariz., the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.

Those days are gone. The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it's not enough, and never will be. Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 million acre-feet per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.

This deficit is "funded," for now, by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation's largest reservoir, Lake Mead, impounded behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can't last. In November 2010, the level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever: 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.

Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are forecast for the region — the reservoir would have soon fallen another 7 feet and triggered mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the Northern Rockies that winter bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.

Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity. Lake Powell, Mead's alter ego, is in about the same condition.

Another dry year or two and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis.

One recent study forecasts that, under a changing climate, the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river's 40 million water users to grow to between 49.3 million and 76.5 million by 2060.

None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. "Augmentation" — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest's thirst. And weather modification, a.k.a. rainmaking, isn't much more effective today than it was in its infancy during the last century.

Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources. But the surest prospect for the West? That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers can expect decades of full employment in the region. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and for hydroelectric production. Recreation interests and environmentalists trying to save endangered species will join them in the legal equivalent of a long-running, circular firing squad.

Powell was right about one thing: Aridity bats last.

William deBuys irrigates a small farm in northern New Mexico and is the author, most recently, of "A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest."

July 29, 2013

$2.2 billion Ivanpah solar plant nears completion

An aerial view of the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility with left to right Tower 1, 2 and 3, where heliostats installation is nearly completed. (Courtesy BrightSource Energy)

Desert Dispatch

IVANPAH • The giant Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert approximately 110 miles east of Barstow and five miles west of the California-Nevada border will soon go online.

Construction on the $2.2 billion project is 95 percent complete and it’s expected to be operational by the end of the year, according to the latest update from the California Energy Commission and an official on the project.

“The California Energy Commission licensed the Ivanpah project in 2010 as part of the Commission’s commitment to support clean renewable energy, reinvigorate the state’s economy and bring jobs to California,” Sandy Louey, a CEC spokeswoman said in a written statement. “The project will help meet the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, which requires increasing California’s amount of renewable energy to 33 percent by 2020.”

BrightSource Energy, Google and NRG Energy are all owners of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the plant’s official title. Construction on the project is largely being funded by a $1.6 billion loan guarantee by the U.S. Department of Energy, according to BrightSource’s official website.

ISEGS will provide enough energy to power 140,000 homes and will connect to the systems of both Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, Jared Blanton, the communications manager for BrightSource confirmed.

“It is the largest solar plant of its kind (under construction) in the world,” Blanton said.

The 377 megawatt project comprises three 459-foot tall towers and 170,000 heliostats, or mirrors, on 5.3 square miles of federal land, according to the BrightSource website. The mirrors will track the sun throughout the day and reflect solar energy to the towers. At each tower the steam emitted and piped from a receiver boiler will power a conventional turbine that generates electricity.

The Ivanpah plant will employ 86 people in permanent operation and maintenance jobs. It took 2,100 workers and support staff to build at the peak of construction. Construction began in October 2010.

July 26, 2013

Bighorn sheep testing shows sick animals without disease

Two bighorn sheep ewes and their lambs are photographed during a survey conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Both state and national wildlife agencies were investigating a disease outbreak within the Mojave National Preserve.

Desert Dispatch

BAKER • Preliminary survey results by wildlife agencies in the Mojave National Preserve show that a few sick desert bighorn sheep have tested negative for pneumonia, according to an official of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

More than 20 sheep in a herd of about 200 bighorns have died. One of those animals was confirmed by laboratory tests to have pneumonia, coordinator Regina Abella said on Friday.

Pneumonia can pass to bighorn from domestic sheep and goats. It is believed an angora goat found 12 miles east of Old Dad Mountain near Baker may have been the culprit for the outbreak, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

Desert bighorn have no natural defenses to diseases carried by domestic animals and the mortality rate for infected animals is 50 to 90 percent.

In California, all bighorn sheep are fully protected under the Department of Fish and Wildlife code which is a classification made to animals that are rare or face possible extinction, according to Abella. However, the desert area has historically held a very healthy and robust population of the breed, she said. In fact the desert bighorn were recently used to help populate other herds in nearby states, she said.

One concern of the wildlife agencies is that the summer marks the beginning of rut, or mating season, which could potentially influence long-distance movement by the older male bighorns. Jeff Villepique of the National Park Service said that officials were nervous about the desert herd potentially carrying the disease to nearby Nevada bighorns.

Two weeks ago officials also did a three-day helicopter survey of Old Dad Mountain and other nearby herds, according to the Mojave National Preserve website. Scientists hoped to asses the current distribution and status of the disease. After the survey on July 19, scientists were still compiling and interpreting the data but noted significantly fewer desert bighorn were observed on Old Dad Mountain compared with previous surveys, according to the report.

Nearby herds appeared to be healthy and in good condition.

July 25, 2013

Desert congressman calls for federal review of Cadiz project

An aerial view of Cadiz Inc. land in the eastern Mojave Desert, looking northeast to Fenner Gap. The company wants to pump groundwater from beneath its holdings and sell it to Southern California cities. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2012)

By Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times

The congressman representing the northern Mojave Desert has asked the federal government to launch a full-fledged environmental review of Cadiz Inc.’s proposed groundwater pumping project.

The request by U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) joins a similar one made last year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), making a rare show of bipartisan unity on a public lands issue.

In a June letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that was released Thursday by the National Parks Conservation Assn., Cook echoed opponent concerns about Cadiz’s plans to pump groundwater from beneath its holdings in the eastern Mojave and sell the water to urban Southern California.

The project, Cook wrote, “is likely to impact San Bernardino County’s water resources, harming ranchers, rural communities, East Mojave landowners" and a company that mines salts from a dry lake bed near proposed wells.

“Moreover,” Cook continued, “the aggressive project pumping could harm the springs of the Mojave National Preserve and regional air quality, while exporting precious water resources out of San Bernardino County to ratepayers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.”

Cook also requested that the U.S. Geological Survey update its previous analysis of the area's hydrology, including likely effects of the pumping.

The project has been approved by San Bernardino County and was certified under state environmental law by its biggest customer, the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County. But it faces a number of environmental lawsuits as well as Feinstein’s adamant opposition.

The aquifer that Cadiz wants to tap is largely replenished by groundwater flows from beneath federal lands near the proposed project -- including the Mojave preserve, which lies to the north.

Cadiz proposes to pipe the water to the nearby Colorado River Aqueduct using an existing railroad right-of-way that crosses federal land. Feinstein and opponents argue the use of a federal right-of-way should trigger a federal environmental review.

Cadiz, a publicly held company, counters that no federal approval is necessary and says conditions imposed by the county ensure that the groundwater pumping will not harm the desert environment.

"The call for a duplicative federal review is wasteful and unnecessarily undermines the serious efforts of Southern California water providers to safely and sustainably serve the region's water needs and create local jobs," the company said Thursday in a statement.

The Interior department, which has had the matter under consideration for more than a year, is expected to soon decide whether to require approval under the National Environmental Policy Act. Such a review would slow the project and possibly produce strict conditions on the desert pumping that would make the project less attractive to investors.

Cook, a former state Assembly member and ex-Marine colonel, was elected last fall to represent a sprawling, redrawn district that covers the northern Mojave and includes the project site. Republican Jerry Lewis, who represented the Cadiz area before he retired from Congress last year, also expressed concerns about the project, according to the parks association.

Mojave Mirrors: World's Largest Solar Plant Ready to Shine

The huge Ivanpah solar plant is part of a push to expand renewable energy on U.S. federal land. The developer took steps to relocate a population of the endangered desert tortoise. (Photograph by Jim West, Alamy)

Josie Garthwaite
For National Geographic

The Ivanpah Valley of the Mojave Desert in California is home to spiky yucca trees, long-nosed leopard lizards, loggerhead shrikes, and a rare species of tortoise—and soon, the largest solar thermal energy plant in the world.

More than six years in the making, the Ivanpah plant is now slated to begin generating power before summer's end. It was designed by BrightSource Energy to use more than 170,000 mirrors to focus sunlight onto boilers positioned atop three towers, which reach nearly 500 feet (150 meters) into the dry desert air. The reflected sunlight heats water in the boilers to make steam, which turns turbines to generate electricity—enough to power more than 140,000 homes.

Scaling Up Solar

At 377 megawatts (MW), Ivanpah's capacity is more than double that of the Andusol, Solnava, or Extresol power stations in southern Spain, which previously were the largest in the world (150 MW each). The 1980s-era SEGS, or Solar Energy Generating System, also in the Mojave, about 100 miles southwest of Ivanpah, has a 354-MW capacity, but it is a collection of nine plants.

Viewed from above, the mirrors seem to angle their faces like enormous silvery blooms craning to the sun. At ground level, the facility stands on a 3,500-acre swath of federal land inhabited by the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Once found across deserts of the American West, the species now inhabits parts of California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. But its numbers have dwindled: Scientists estimate some populations have declined by as much as 90 percent.

Although initial surveys indicated fewer than 20 desert tortoises occupied the Ivanpah project area, more than 150 individuals ended up being found. Biologists working for BrightSource cleared the area, carefully moving tortoises to "nursery pens" adjacent to the site before releasing them to nearby habitat. [See the video below for the story of the process and how they've fared.]

These slow-moving desert reptiles are able to survive a year or more without water and live for as long as 80 years, burrowing underground to keep cool and feasting on wildflowers in the spring. Yet they have proven vulnerable to encroaching human development. "Here's an animal that's been around 200 million years that may be disappearing," said Ed LaRue, a biologist with the Desert Tortoise Council, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation of the desert tortoise in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. "Solar, especially at the level that it's being proposed in the Mojave Desert, is a new threat."

BrightSource and its partners, NRG and Google, received a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee in April 2011 in support of the project. And it may be only the first of many such developments on public lands in the Golden State. Although several large-scale solar projects in California have sputtered (including two from BrightSource) and technical challenges are considerable, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a move in early July to prioritize more than 300,000 acres of public lands in six Western states for use by utility-scale solar plants, with nearly half of that acreage in California.

Acting on the heels of President Obama's recent call for federal approval of 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020, the BLM prohibited mining claims on the 300,000 acres for the next 20 years. Some environmentalists have raised concerns about how fragile desert ecosystems will be altered in the renewable energy drive, but developers and advocates of large-scale clean power say the ultimate goal is to reduce dependence on fossil fuel that is far more harmful to both land and atmosphere.

"We're combining innovative technology with traditional power-block technology to produce carbon-free, reliable renewable power," said Joseph Desmond, senior vice president of marketing for BrightSource. (A power-block facility includes a steam heat exchanger, steam-turbine generator, and the electrical equipment in a substation.) "When you're talking about fossil fuels, you have to factor in the land used for exploration, extraction, processing, and then transportation," he said. "People sometimes forget this is actually a very efficient utilization of a sustainable energy resource."

Ivanpah's developers also addressed concerns about the typically high consumption by solar thermal plants by deploying an air-cooling system that they say reduces water use 90 percent compared to conventional technology.

First of Many?

BrightSource's desert plant is one of the largest projects in California's ambitious push for renewable energy. The state aims to generate 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal by 2020. Two other solar projects designed for the Ivanpah Valley are now working their way through the approval process: The proposed Stateline and Silver State South projects, both from the company First Solar, would generate 300 megawatts and 350 megawatts, respectively. Further north, a solar farm proposed for construction across 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of the Panoche Valley, would generate nearly 400 megawatts—if it can survive legal challenges from environmental groups and clear other hurdles, like signing on a utility to buy the electricity and obtaining federal permits.

"There's a trade-off," said Larry LaPre, a biologist with BLM. "If there were no push toward renewable energy, animals like the desert tortoise and plants like the Joshua tree could be impacted quite a bit [by climate change]." Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) cites global climate change and drought as "potentially important long-term considerations" for the desert tortoise's recovery. Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall expected to result from climate change could ravage the species' food supply. At the same time, FWS recognizes that it has not evaluated the potential long-term effects of big renewable energy projects that fragment or isolate desert tortoise conservation areas, possibly "cutting off gene flow between these areas."

And so in the Mojave, the question that divides renewable energy supporters and wildlife advocates is this: Is it a good trade? "There's so much land out here where the biological resources have been compromised," such as old agricultural land and areas on the urban fringe, said LaRue. "I think it would be a great resource if it was just put in the right place."

July 15, 2013

Parker Dam almost started war

Parker Dam diverts water from the Colorado River for irrigation and supplies electricity to towns in Arizona, Nevada and California. (Bureau of Reclamation)

By John Stanley
Special for The Arizona Republic

In 1934, Arizona stood on the brink of armed conflict.

The governor declared martial law, machine-gun nests were put in place and ships were authorized to carry troops, all to deal with one of the gravest dangers the state had ever faced — an invasion by the water-thieving varmints of California.

Water rights have long been a contentious issue in the Southwest, especially the water within the region’s greatest river, the mighty Colorado.

In 1922, the six other states drained by the river or its major tributaries — New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California — signed the Colorado River Compact, an agreement that spelled out how much water each state could draw from the river.

Arizona refused to sign.

Not only did officials believe the agreement shortchanged the state, many thought that California, with its much greater political clout, was bullying the others to grab more than its fair share.

The situation irritated a good many Arizonans over the years, perhaps none so much as Benjamin Moeur, the fourth governor of Arizona.

Moeur, known for his short temper and profane vocabulary, was a Tempe physician and apparently something of a stereotype — his gruff exterior hid what contemporaries described as a generous and compassionate soul. As governor, he held free medical consultations in the capital during his lunch hours. And he was known for writing off his patients’ medical debts every Christmas.

At any rate, Moeur was none too pleased when the federal Bureau of Reclamation starting building a dam on the Colorado River, about 14 miles upstream from the little town of Parker. When he got reports that construction crews were working on the Arizona side of the river in November 1934, he declared martial law along the east bank and dispatched National Guard troops from the 158th Infantry Regiment to the site.

Their mission was clear: Take whatever steps necessary to prohibit the workers from even touching “the sacred soil of old Arizona.”

The troops seem to have taken his words to heart. Arriving at the dam site, they set up machine-gun emplacements to defend the border, presumably from the construction crew.

Moeur also authorized ferryboat operators in Parker to transport the troops across the Colorado River, creating an official, if temporary, naval force that consisted entirely of two antiquated ferryboats.

The Navy of Arizona had something of an inglorious history. When the ferries ended up snagged in the river during a nighttime reconnaissance, construction workers from the enemy state of California had to rescue them.

The national press had a field day, mocking Arizona for its preposterous politics.

Imagine that.

But the Supreme Court ruled that because the dam had not been properly authorized, California and the Bureau of Reclamation were, in fact, acting illegally.

Congress hastily passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill, officially authorizing the construction of Parker Dam.

Moeur died in 1937, just a couple of months after leaving office; Parker Dam was completed a year later. And Arizona signed the Colorado River Compact in 1944.

Parker Dam is still the deepest dam in the world, with nearly three-fourths of its 320-foot-high structure buried below the original riverbed.

In addition to diverting water for irrigation, the dam generates electricity that goes to towns across Arizona, Nevada and California. Parker Dam also created Lake Havasu, one of western Arizona’s greatest recreational resources.

There are no tours available at Parker Dam. But cars can drive over it from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Parking areas on either side offer fine views of this historical structure. It’s 12 miles north of Parker just west of Arizona 95.

July 2, 2013

County supervisors have mishandled Cadiz project

Voice of the People
San Bernardino Sun

Regarding San Bernardino County increasing its legal fund to fight lawsuits over the Cadiz water project in Mojave, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janice Rutherford states, "We have scientists on all sides of the issue that have different views about how Cadiz's plans are going to affect the groundwater."

Well, no, Chairwoman, there are only two sides: that of Cadiz and the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) in Orange County (the former of which stands to make millions off the water sales), and that of everyone else, including independent scientists of the United States Geological Survey and the National Parks Service who have contested virtually every assertion made by the scientists hired by Cadiz and SMWD.

A prudent individual would be wise to question the motives of a company poised to make millions off a project on which it is seeking approval, but perhaps the tens of thousands that Cadiz has made in campaign contributions to some county supervisors has clouded their judgment.

Rutherford also states that the county will be "closely monitoring the project."

In May 2012, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors adopted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in which they abdicated their "lead agency" rights to SMWD and also exempted the Cadiz water project from the San Bernardino Groundwater Management Ordinance. In doing so they also redefined the "annual overdraft" clause of the ordinance in which the county checks that the extraction of groundwater does not exceed the natural replenishment of such groundwater, from a yearly basis to a 10-year average. This means that the Cadiz project could operate with continual deficits (overdrafts) for at least a decade, creating an effective barrier to enforcement against harm to the aquifer. This is Rutherford's idea of "closely monitoring the project"?

The Board of Supervisors, whether through greed or ineptitude, has done the citizens of San Bernardino County a disservice in its handling of the Cadiz water project -- and for this we will pay dearly.

-- Paul Clement, Upland

Enviro Group Claims Ivanpah Solar Power comes at Nature’s Expense


MOJAVE DESERT — A national parks advocacy group claims that a massive solar power plant being constructed in the Mojave Desert, southwest of Las Vegas, is generating clean renewable energy at the expense of nature.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which will cost $2.2 billion and has taken three years to build, was developed by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy. Its largest investor is New Jersey-based NRG Energy.

Randall Hickok, the senior vice president of NRG Solar—a subsidiary of NRG Energy—said the facility contains three 450-foot towers surrounded by 170,000 heliostat mirrors.

“You are using the sun’s heat, reflected by mirrors, to shine on that boiler, and generate steam. From there on out, it’s just like a regular power plant. Steam turns turbine, turbine turns the generator, you’ve got electricity,” he said.

Hickok said the solar project was constructed in the desert because the area was deemed to be degraded environmentally.

“Environmentally, it is less prone to have wildlife than other locations. It’s located near some high voltage transmission lines. And it’s reasonably close to the freeway, so getting equipment in and out was easier,” he said.

When Ivanpah is fully online by the end of 2013, the plant will be able to generate power for 140,000 households servicing Los Angeles, Las Vegas and, in some cases, Northern California.

The energy is so clean, it’s the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.

“There are no discharges to the lands. It’s sunshine making steam, and the plant is water-cooled, but it’s a closed system. It’s like a giant radiator in your car,” said Hickok.

While Hickok touts Ivanpah as environmentally friendly, construction on the project was halted in 2011 because 127 desert tortoises needed to be relocated.

“We are supportive, in concept, of the Ivanpah project. We were not supportive of the location. Primarily because of the impacts on national parks, the Mojave National Preserve, which surrounds us right now. And also because of the impacts to the federally-threatened desert tortoise,” said David Lamfrom of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Hickok, however, said they had up to 85 biologists working full-time during the construction period to find the tortoises and get them out of harm’s way.

Lamfrom said there are better places to build a solar plant.

“There are literally millions of acres of disturbed land. There are brownfields, there are mine sites, there are profound opportunities,” he said.

“It takes the desert a tremendously long time to heal. That is one of the reasons we have to make really careful decisions about where we put these projects. Because if you develop a piece of land in the desert, it may not revegetate properly…it may not return to full health for hundreds of years or longer,” added Lamfrom.

To date, 25 solar power projects have been approved by the Obama administration nationwide.

As for the Ivanpah Valley, three other plants are planned. One has gotten approval; two others are waiting for confirmation.