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Johanna Wald’s Blog

NRDC approves first solar project: Lucerne Valley Project

Johanna Wald

Posted August 17, 2010

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We share exciting news this week as environmental groups, including NRDC, support our first utility scale solar energy project – the Lucerne Valley Solar Project near Victorville in San Bernardino County. This is the first solar power project, and the second renewable energy project that we believe strikes the balance between meeting our clean energy needs and protecting important resources on our public lands – the first was the transmission line that will bring renewable resources from the east Mojave desert to the Los Angeles metro area along the Interstate 10 corridor.

The Lucerne Valley project cleared its final environmental review on Friday, and the pay-off in renewable energy and jobs will be significant. When completed, according to the project proponent, the Lucerne Valley complex will generate 45 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 20,000 California homes with clean, renewable power.  And along with the electricity, it will also generate jobs. San Bernardino County has been hit especially hard by the recession.  Property values have plummeted, and unemployment exceeds 14 percent.  The Lucerne Valley Solar Project will provide a big boost to the local economy during the construction phase, maintain a respectable permanent payroll during its operation and contribute substantially to the local economy.

There’re also some things the project won’t do: it won’t spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like coal or gas-fired power plants.  And unlike nuclear power plants, it won’t produce lethal radioactive waste.  

But no project is without impacts including this one.  The project will cover 516 acres – that’s 516 acres that will be devoted just to this use.  It’s possible for wildlife habitat to coexist with certain farming or ranching uses – even in some timber or oil and gas operations.  Unfortunately, that’s almost never the case with large solar projects. They are, in every sense, industrial sites. Virtually all the space is taken up by solar panels or supporting infrastructure; there’s simply no room for habitat.

However, the site fulfills most of our criteria for a responsibly sited solar project.  It has low wildlife and scenic values. It contains no designated critical habitat for listed species and no special management areas.  Though it is undeveloped, it contains some disturbed land.  It supports several old buildings, as well as graded roads. Mineral exploration has been conducted on the parcel.  It is relatively close to an urbanized area and it is located in a Bureau of Land Management-designated development corridor.  With or without the solar project, this land has been approved for some kind of intensive use.   And, the BLM, in response to public comment, adopted measures to minimize the project’s impacts for nearby residents and visitors. 

We need to move toward the construction of an energy infrastructure that is sustainable and clean, and helps us build a clean energy economy. The Lucerne Valley project puts us on that path. 

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bob lienAug 18 2010 08:08 PM

Many of us local residents (I just finished building right across the highway) are here because of the remarkable scenery (gorgeous) and relatively undisturbed desert habitat. What a shame that solar projects don't use existing rooftops. If you visited my new desert home, I don't think you'd be lauding such irresponsible use of the desert. We can do better -- i.e., use the urban landscape, rather than 516 (!) acres of beautiful desert. I consider the project a horrible tragedy, but of course there are so few of us in the vicinity that it is easy for large companies to completely snow the environmental community at large.

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