Solar facilities come with their own negative externalities

Silurian Valley SolarThe Silurian Valley Solar Project, while it has been billed as an efficient use of funds and land, has many problems. Many have argued that the proposed facility is both an inefficient use of space, and also a possibly harmful one. It poses possible threats to the natural wildlife in the region (populations include desert tortoises, migratory birds, and the Golden Eagle). It also does not appear to be for the direct benefit of those who live nearby.

The Silurian Valley Solar Project would go on 11-square miles of public land in San Bernardino County between Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The facility would consist of thousands of photovaltic panels arranged together. This site is purported to be able to produce a peak output of 200 megawatts. In other words, enough electricity to power around 35,000 homes. This facility would also include 44 miles of new roads. What the function of all that pavement will be baffles me, but then again I’m not an engineer (or a bureaucrat).

When asked about the project, David Lamfrom, the California desert program manager of the National Parks Conservation stated that the project is, “poorly sited” as well as being outside of an Obama Administration solar energy development zone created in 2012.

Many solar facilities are not entirely disconnected from the environment. Certain types of solar-energy-production, specifically Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), require vast amounts of water in order to operate. That being said, the Silurian Valley Solar project would rely on the use of Photo-valtic panels which tend to have a much smaller environmental impact.

Other facilities across the state of California continue to be approved by the Obama Administration. In fact, it has approved six commercial-scale solar projects on public land in the deserts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Three already are operating. Eight more are currently being planned.

The system that has developed with respect to the solar industry favors corporations who often get government subsidies and tax breaks in order to keep them profitable. Another caveat: a large number of the solar companies that operate within the borders of the United States are foreign-owned. Iberdrola Renewables, the company which owns Aurora Solar LLC, the firm in charge of the development of the Silurian Valley project, is headquartered in Spain.

Silurian Valley SolarThe practice of obtaining the aid of foreign companies is not, in itself, something negative. However, when the long term benefits of projects like the one in Silurian Valley are weighed and one learns that the project is only estimated to create a whopping 10-12 permanent jobs, it does not appear to be something that will be of any vast benefit to the locals (other than the production of electricity of course). When one further compounds onto this the fact that Los Angeles is a power-and-water-sucking behemoth it seems unlikely that any true gains will come from the facility.

The company has protested the efforts of concerned citizens mainly due to the fact that this project has been in the works for two years and has not yet come to fruition. If the entire thing is scrapped now they will have to start all over. This alone is not much of a convincing reason to give the go-ahead.

It also must be noted that the facility will be an ugly blight on the natural landscape. Instead of vast expanses of un-altered beauty, visitors driving up highway 127 will be given a glorious, concrete and steel solar facility to look out at.

Additionally, individuals in favor of the project argue that the site is basically “in the middle of nowhere” and that building a facility in the middle of the desert will have literally no effect on the local environment. Setting aside that the planners of the Silurian Valley facility have obviously overlooked the fact that the region they have allotted is prone to frequent and dynamic weather patterns (yes the desert has weather other than sun) such as massive unpredictable flash-flooding.

“The middle of nowhere” for humans also isn’t necessarily that way for wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded in a statement that it does not believe that the applicants are able to document that:

1) “The proposed project will be located in an area identified as suitable for solar energy development in an applicable land use plan and/or by another related process such as the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.”

2) “The proposed project will minimize adverse impacts on access and recreational opportunities on public lands.”

3) “The proposed project will minimize adverse impacts on important fish and wildlife habitats and migration/movement corridors.”

Silurian Valley SolarThe facility threatens to encroach on the territory of many forms of local wildlife. The same assessment by the BLM indicated that not only will the facility push into the habitat of local desert tortoises, but that it will also act to attract large populations of common Ravens (Corvus corax) which thrive on human activity (trash, buildings for perching, roosting, etc.). It also so happens that these ravens tend to prey on desert tortoises, giving a fairly good example of one such possible environmental impact.

Furthermore, the BLM indicates that the building of the facility would lead to the depletion of the local environment such that the breeding population of migratory birds could be significantly reduced. The proposed plan for the site does not even address the issue of migratory birds, except for once where it agrees to comply with standard bird-safe regulations for power lines. It has also been noted that nests belonging to Golden Eagles (protected under the Eagle Act) have been observed within a ten mile radius of the proposed site.

Large, corporate projects such as the one proposed for Silurian Valley are representative of the systemic and handicapped effort of modern Americans to become energy efficient. Make no mistakes, I am not in the least opposed to the implementation of truly efficient clean energy. The thing that rubs me the wrong way, however, is sluggish and semi-incompetent corporatized state bureaucracy. The enemy isn’t solar, it’s inefficiency. The answer is simple: stop the foolishness and move beyond the profit motive.


Comments should be submitted by email or U.S. Mail. Send your comments to: Katrina Symons, BLM Barstow Field Manager, 2601 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA 92311, by email at OR

The period for sending comments to the BLM expires May 28. All comments are helpful.

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  1. THANKS so much for writing and putting this piece out there, Sean. Many similar articles regarding California desert solar proposals on public lands skirt the truth: these sites are chosen for profit motive with NO concern for the land. Iberdrola really doesn’t give a hoot about energy efficiency, unspoiled Mojave Desert landscapes, or our eagles and tortoises – they want the free land and government (taxpayer) subsidies on which to make corporate-sized profits. To site an industrial facility along the incredibly scenic corridor which connects Mojave National Preserve to Death Valley National Park would be an absolute and irreversible tragedy – it’s not going to happen in Silurian Valley. THANK YOU, Sean.

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