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Don’t we need to build solar power plants on the Carrizo Plain to save people from drowning in Bangladesh?
Curbing the general impacts of global warming does not require a specific location for a solar power plant. The Department of Fish and Game is tracking 93 solar projects in the central valley, ranging from 4 to 700 Megawatts, which they have determined will either have no significant environmental impacts at all or impacts that will require only minor mitigation efforts, and will not require a “take” permit to allow for harms to endangered species because there are no threatened species on the sites of the proposed facilities. The Environmental Impact Reports for the Topaz and CVSR projects are the size of large phone books, filled with efforts to mitigate harms to such species due to the location of the projects. The Central Valley projects will generate about 3,000 megawatts when completed. Another 5,000 megawatts is available on Westlands Water District lands north of Kettleman City with the same zero-to-minor environmental impacts.
Haven’t the solar companies come up with enough environmental protection measures to make the impacts of their projects on the Carrizo insignificant?
Most of the mitigations proposed by the companies are, by definition, experimental: no project of this type and size has ever been attempted on so much land that is home to so many threatened and endangered species. Because the projects are unprecedented, the effectiveness of the proposed protective measures is unknown. “Let’s hope this works” is not the way state and federal law is supposed to protect endangered species.
Don’t we need large solar facilities in remote desert areas because there aren’t enough roofs to make rooftop solar a viable way of producing solar power on a large scale?
The state of California has committed to producing 12,000 Megawatts of renewable energy from “distributed generation,” including rooftop solar and small-scale (under 20 Megawatts) solar projects. Another 8,000 megawatts is to come from utility-scale projects; by coincidence, the same amount expected to come from currently planned Central Valley solar projects and the Westlands District – see above answer). The grid system in the state can accommodate 15,000 Megawatts with minor upgrades. Last year, Germany installed 8,000 Megawatts of solar power, 80 percent of that being rooftop solar. Germany is a generally overcast northern European nation. Its policies – not plentiful sunshine -- have made it the world’s leader in solar power.
Isn’t it sometimes necessary to site renewable energy facilities on core habitat areas?
Since the Carrizo solar power plants were first proposed, a line of reasoning has been put forward that goes something like this:
It is necessary to build renewable energy facilities in fragile, biologically rich areas; in core habitat for threatened and endangered species; in order to reduce carbon emissions, which is necessary to save those species from the impacts of global climate change.
Reducing carbon emissions by such measures as ramping up solar power is vital to curbing the environmental impacts of global warming. But it is half the battle. The other half is protecting vulnerable species from unavoidable climate change impacts. Because even if we cut all carbon emissions to zero tomorrow, we will not be able to avoid the impacts from the existing atmospheric build up of emissions. As the Local Government Commission told the county in its recent report on climate change adaptation planning in our region, that means making it possible for these species to adapt to those impacts by maintaining existing natural communities in as nearly an intact condition as possible. We must therefore step up our efforts to protect species at risk if they are to have a chance of surviving the unavoidable shifts in climate, and adapt to them.
Conversely, if we instead inflict further impacts on them now, they are unlikely to survive long enough to adapt later. The sections in the LGC report headlined: “Limit new development to previously disturbed sites that are not important for wildlife movement” and “Where not to put renewable energy” are self explanatory (but they explain anyway, i.e. not in “potential wildlife corridors and connectors” or “areas of abundant or sensitive native species”).
Measures to ensure the protection of ecosystem and habitat strongholds, PLUS emission reductions, are the two components of the necessary approach to climate change. For that reason, the idea that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs,” a mindset expressed in various public comments on this project and in the EIR, could not have a less appropriate application than as justification for this project on this site. Especially when there are alternatives before you which make it possible to make this omelet without breaking these eggs.
Won’t these projects only impact 2 ½ percent of the Carrizo Plain?
The Topaz Solar Ranch and California Valley Solar Ranch projects are located in a “high permeability” wildlife corridor -- essentially the main thoroughfare for kit fox and pronghorn antelope traversing this last remaining fragment of their range, which once consisted of the entire San Joaquin Valley. For this reason, the location of the projects at these sites assures maximum impacts on wildlife for the entire region.
Aren’t these projects too far away from the Carrizo Plain National Monument to have any impact on the Monument?
See above. The Monument is not just the landscape; the threatened animal species of the Carrizo are among the “objects of the Monument” designated for protection, and they don’t recognize lines on maps. They cross the Monument’s northern border and the proposed project sites when seeking to locate food and water in their northern range, and must pass through the proposed solar project sites when moving southward again and reentering the Monument.