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Solar News

The Land Battles Heat Up Over Solar Farms: The Sierra Club Sues


January 24, 2011

Whenever you have land use over large tracts of land at stake, there are certainly bound to be disputes. But the latest dispute over solar farms adds a new dimension to the land battles.  The latest series of battles pits environmentalists and solar energy developers against one another. 

Last month, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the California Energy Commission, contending that the Commission's expedited environmental review was faulty as well as the Commission's failure to consider the effects on the wildlife in the region. The Sierra Club's challenge is just one of several challenges against proposed solar farms. Solar Novus Today summarizes some of the other lawsuits that have been brought in the last month.

Earlier this month, according to the article, the Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management over the Ivanpah solar plant in California. The article also mentions a group of several Native American tribes that have filed lawsuits against DOI for approving Ivanpah.

The Earthtechling also summarizes these various lawsuits in an article entitled "Green Vs Green In Another Solar Lawsuit." The article describes the allegations that the developer, which commenced construction last October, and the agencies that approved the development, did not take into account the effect of the Ivanpah plant on the desert tortoise, an endangered species.

An exasperated Michael Kanellos writing on Greentechsolar sums up his argument with the blunt title: "Dear Environmental Community: Please Shut Up." His argument is that there are "larger goals and considerations we must keep in mind."  The considerations that he contends outweigh the environmentalists' argument include what will happen if these solar plants are not built: it will simply increase the demand for natural gas, coal and nuclear plants, and decrease the number of jobs.  And maybe, according to Kanellos, the desert is not pristine as some may have it. As he contends, "the people who will really benefit from these lawsuits sit on the boards of fossil fuel companies"

Dean Chuang writing on Americans for Energy Leadership contrasts the US approach with that of the Chinese. According to Chuang, "As can clearly be seen in China (or Germany, Spain, and Japan), strong state support is the single most important factor currently driving the introduction of renewable energy onto the grid. He continues, "We must recognize that the countries that develop the ‘green' technologies of today will be in a position to dominate the energy industry of tomorrow. However, China today has more in common with America's robber baron era than with the current age of environmental impact statements and public review - China's path to renewables is in many ways a refrain from our own Cuyahoga past and cannot be our path into the future."

Chuang does see some good news on the horizon.  As he states, "The good news is that the Bureau of Land Management has been evaluating the renewable energy resource potential of public lands since 2003 and now estimates that public lands have the potential to generate 2.9 million MW of solar, 206,000 MW of wind, and 39,000 MW of geothermal energy. An increasing number of proposals for large scale developments are progressing to the permitting and public participation stages of BLM review. The scale of these proposed projects is immense."

An article on MSNBC presents the opposing view, "To a growing number of environmental advocates, the dozens of large solar plants that are springing up in vast areas of the western wilderness are more scourge than savior." The result, according to the MSNBC story, is that "For the solar industry overall, the situation marks a fundamental shift in attitude. Where previously almost any bare patch of desert seemed like a prospective solar plant, now the reality is that much of the nation's most fertile ground for alternative power and energy independence may well remain undeveloped."