Friends who have intervened in the permitting process for the proposed Solar Two site at Ocotillo, California, which would replace old-growth desert habitat for flat-tailed horned lizards with industrial power generation run by Tessera Solar, received email yesterday from Terry O’Brien, the deputy director of the Siting, Transmission and Environmental Protection Division the California Energy Commission. That email read, in part,
The Energy Commission staff believes that the direct project impacts to biological resource, and soil and water resources, and visual resources, and the cumulative impacts associated with biological resources, land use, soil and water resources, and visual resources for the Imperial Valley Solar (IVS) Project will be significant. There is no feasible mitigation that would reduce the impacts to a level that is less than significant given the scale of the project, and other projects that were cumulatively considered. In addition, staff has concluded that the project will not be able to comply with Imperial County several laws, ordinances, regulations and standards, also referred to as “LORS.” Finally, staff recognizes that due to a lack of information regarding the long-term performance of this new technology, it is uncertain whether the applicant’s claims regarding reliability will be met.
Notwithstanding the unmitigable impacts, consideration needs to be given to the fact that the project is a solar power plant that will help California meet its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 33 percent in 2020 and AB 32 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. As such, it will provide critical environmental benefits by helping the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and these positive attributes must be weighed against the project’s adverse impacts. It is because of these benefits and the concerns regarding the adverse impacts that global warming will have upon the state and our environment, including desert ecosystems, that staff believes it would be appropriate for the Commission to approve the project based on a finding of overriding considerations, consistent with CEQA Guideline Section 15093, if the Commission adopts staff’s proposed mitigation measures/conditions of certification.
In the words of my friend Tom Budlong, an intervenor in the case, “It essentially says: There are many unmitigable impacts, it breaks a few laws, and we don’t know if the machinery will last. But we will approve the project anyway.”
The full letter (252KB PDF) is here.
It’s worth noting that this staff reccommendation came out as evidentiary hearings on the project were literally in process. CEC staff has made up its mind and the facts don’t matter. They want to destroy an irreplaceable piece of habitat for environmental reasons, and they’re willing to abuse and erode CEQA — California’s landmark environmental law — to do so.