Last Spring at Ivanpah…?

A huge solar power plant threatens rare plants and animals.

There has been much discussion about renewable energy sources and large wind and solar projects. The problems with many of these projects are manyfold. One, there will be no decommissioning of any coal fired or other polluting/greenhouse gas emitting power plants as mitigation. Two, the areas where many of these projects are planned are in very important habitats for rare plants and animals. Three, many of these plants are centralized for the profit of the few and vulnerable to any manner of attack as can be seen from last week’s post. Fourth, desert soils, which will be scraped of all life, are great carbon sinks and all of this carbon will be released to the atmosphere exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

The Ivanpah Solar Energy Project is planned for an area of southern California near Clark Mountain on the border of the Mojave National Preserve. 4,000 acres, nearly 6.5 square miles, will be scraped clean of all earth and solar panels will be constructed.

There are better ways and places to produce or save electricity but since many people view these lands as “wastelands” there is little concern from the public. De-centralized power, including community based systems, in areas that have already been developed such as rooftops and farm fields are better options. This type of development is more sustainable, loses less energy in transmission, and less vulnerable to attack.

Basin and Range Watch visited the site of the proposed facility and found a great diversity of life.

Even though the rains were not great this past winter, wildflowers were still common in the Mojave Desert. We walked across the old granitic fan sloping gradually off Clark Mountain, by creosote rings perhaps thousands of years old, by strange tree-like cholla cacti, to a small gray limestone hill. The entire area we traversed will be graded by machinery and stripped of all life if the planned Ivanpah Solar Energy Project is built. So we wanted to check out what will be lost.

The desert here was quite active, Black-throated sparrows singing from the tops of shrubs, Zebra-tailed lizards skittering across washes, and hordes of mammal tracks filling the sand: Kit foxes, kangaroo rats, pocket mice, jackrabbits, even a few wild burros. The place was waking up from cold winter rest, and a diversity of wildflowers showed themselves.

Last Spring at Ivanpah…?
Basin and Range Watch.



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  1. kt Avatar

    Those flower photos are just gorgeous! Thank you Basin and Range Watch and Ken for linking to them!

    It blows my mind that environmentalists are embracing this madness of destroying the native vegetation of the Mojave desert and sagebrush country to supposedly save the planet. Save the planet by destroying it? When there are millions of rooftops in LA, Phoenix, etc. just waiting for solar paneling? And plenty of marginal ag lands all along the Snake River Plain.

    I was thinking this morning: A good term to describe the enviros and others who unquestioningly embrace anything claimed to be Renewable (like the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope and others – who I might add is at odds with many grassroots activists and chapters) is Energy Dominionists.

    The Energy Dominionists are like new converts to a Renewables Sect. You take an oath of fealty to the Gods of the twisting light bulb and the Shell wind farm ads spinning away on the sidebars of “progressive” web sites.

    You can’t talk to the Energy Dominionists converts about the damage to the planet that will happen by bulldozing the desert bare or dynamiting a road maze into a sagebrush plateau so Big Greedy Energy Company can continue to control our energy, gouge consumers and create crises a la Enron.

    I also think they are puppets (some knowingly, some too starry-eyed to understand) of Industry — or perhaps that is too kind.

    Perhaps they are really just looking out for their own or important politicians and others speculative investments in projects that make no sense. Especially when you understand how much trashed/disturbed land and rooftops the West has -like abandoned ag fields too salty to farm or increasingly lacking water as climate change and livestock grazing kills perennial flows, and all those subdivision and city roofs, too.

    The value of the Ivanpah lands in sequestering carbon, as Basin and Range Watch describes, would be lost. You can’t save the planet by destroying its natural carbon absorbing systems. Interestingly, the studies on cryptobiotic/microbiotic crusts were done at the Nevada Test site, which has does not have domestic livestock grazing hooves destroying the cyrptobiotic crusts and soil structure. Folks need to keep a wary eye for studies on cattle-beat lands that may point to reduced ability of wild lands to combat climate change.

  2. Maska Avatar

    Thanks for the great comments, KT. As a desert dweller (Chihuahuan Desert), I get very discouraged at the disrespect shown our desert lands, even by some of those who ought to know better, like Mr. Pope.

  3. Brian Ertz Avatar

    I took the family to Brown’s Bench yesterday. It was incredible how far my boys were able to hike given rain and how much appreciation a 6 & 8 year old expressed even after clear exhaustion. They stirred up a sage- grouse hen and were so elated by it.

    It seems like it’s the easiest thing to trade away a landscape on a marketing scam as brilliantly executed as we see with mega-renewables on public lands when you’ve never been to the place. It’s a whole different ball-game when your 6 year old son turns to you after a full day of a hard hike, exhausted, and asks when we can come back.

    I wonder how many more visits we’ll get before the quiet, unobstructed skyline and chance at an exhileration via such a bird in the brush is gone on Brown’s Bench.

  4. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    WOW!…beautiful pictures. Makes me want to return to the desert where I lived for many years.
    We could do so much with the wasted space of rooftops. Portland has a very progressive rooftop gardening program.

  5. Linda Hunter Avatar

    While solar power is silent, not going to blow up or put gases and toxic stuff or radiation in the atmosphere, why oh why to engineers always overkill something? When I look at the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam I see a very good and noble intention but then they built these concrete boxes so very unlike anything the natural world has to offer no wonder fish are confused. Fish ladders never worked quite like they were supposed to but there wasn’t a scientific reason . . there is only natural reason. I am sure the people involved in this process are just dumbfounded and confused by getting flack from environmental concerns. Their intentions seem so right to them they will probably close off their ears to any nay sayers.

  6. kt Avatar

    It looks like Daniel Patterson has a Post on this too!

    And Brian: There is a BLM proposal for 3 more new MET Towers at Browns Bench. You know how much these intrude on the visual field in this wide open landscape. I think the wind speculators are trying to drive the grouse completely off the China Mountain/Browns Bench plateau there by peppering the landscape with tall vertical objects that grouse avoid in order to poison the “baseline” studies. Of course since the wind speculators are also some of the ranchers – it kind of kills two birds with one stone …

    There is also an outrageous and hugely destructive pumped hydro-facility proposed for Corral Creek on Browns Bench to boot – in association with the wind farm. The worst of both worlds – weird dams AND wind destruction in a sage-grouse stronghold and migratory bird corridor. Same thing for the Summer Lake Oregon country in the northern Great Basin. Wind farm AND hydro and destructio nof Summer Lake.

    In partial response to Linda Hunter: The engineers would be spending their time a lot better if they stopped trying to destroy the Western public lands, just because the big energy companies think they can build things a bit cheaper and reap higher profits by destroying the public’s land. Engineer all they want on local rooftops, parking lots, ag wastelands, devise the smartest of grids, etc. Those dams were sold as engineering marvels in their day, and the solution to all our energy woes. What was one of David Brower’s greatest regrets – in retrospect? Glen Canyon was not stopped.

    The public would be much better served if rancher Salazar actually embraced a conservation ethic when talking about renewable energy, and everybody accepted that destroying natural places, like the beautiful Ivanpah desert or Brwons Bench or Summer Lake, is a travesty, and socially and morally unacceptable. If Salazar cared a whit about sage grouse and wild lands, his BLM would not even be considering the MET towers at Browns Bench and instead would be ordering those already there hauled off ASAP before they impinge further on sage-grouse movement and use of the landscape.

  7. Tilly Avatar

    Very poignant post and excellent point about needing to visit a place before offering to trade it away. Perhaps WWP and other groups could do some public hikes to Browns Bench?

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Browns Bench is extraordinary about May 30 – June 17. That
    s when the lupines bloom and the cows not especially thick.

    If anyone wants to go there, I’d say that is the very best time.

  9. paulWTAMU Avatar

    So where do we built new energy plants? Solar and wind panels on individual houses may be enough in some areas, but in parts of the country you just don’t always get that much wind or sun. I’m so split on renewable energy that I don’t know which way to go. I hate destroying more land but I hate using fossil fuels too :-/

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think they should generally put them close to existing transmission lines and close to load centers if they can’t go on rooftops, etc.

  11. kt Avatar


    There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of acres of really marginal ag land where water has run out (or is on the verge of running out) or irrigation has caused the soils to become too salty or water is over-appropriated and crises are developing — that are sunny or windy enough. The thing is: Big Solar and Big wind (often the same old Oil companies or foreign investors like RES or Harry Reid’s many friends) wants public land because they think it is cheaper than private land. The fees paid to BLM are less than they woud pay a private party. PLUS: Claiming that the Solar or Wind Industry needs huge new transmission lines for remote public lands sited Renewables Industrial Sites then opens up NEW utlility corridor paths – that can THEN IN STEP TWO sprawl ever wider because the lands near the corridors once they are in place are already considered expendable – and BLM will happily then, once the linear slash in place – use them to site Oil and Gas Pipelines (and down the road water). Very slick (and I mean like an oil slick). So Renewables are the Front Man – for things like getting new corridors to move Tar Sands energy south … Or Dick Cheney Wyoming Homeland Gas to all kinds of places.

  12. mikarooni Avatar

    This project and much of the resulting discussion directly addresses a major issue in the push for renewable energy, the question of centralized versus decentralized energy production. One of the reasons that PV and wind have so many critics and there is so much disinformation being generated about them is because they lend themselves so easily to decentralized production. Any property owner with a decent credit rating can finance a rooftop PV plant or a couple of wind turbines and effectively bypass the big boys who run the utility conglomerates, the powers-that-be so to speak, and that’s the last thing these big boys want. It completely changes the equation. As long as we buy power from centralized corporate producers, they can raise the rates, manipulate the economy, twist the political scene anytime they please (anybody out there old enough to remember how they got rid of poor naive Jimmy Carter (they manipulated the energy supply and prices and cracked the whip on every part of the economy)). But, if energy production is bought at the hardware store, then the market is open to any smalltime manufacturer, anywhere in the world, who can wind an armature. Who needs a nuclear plant controlled by the NRC, which is, in turn, controlled by the centralized and monopolistic nuclear industry? Who needs the monopolistic Saudis and their oil? Who needs an Enron? Decentralize energy production cuts all these bloodsuckers out of the picture, which is why they are falling all over themselves to convince people that PV panels on our roofs just won’t cut it and we just can’t survive without their big centralized solar farms in the Mojave.

  13. Brian Ertz Avatar

    it seems to me there’s enough potential for conservation (period), but also on existing rooftops (commercial & residential) & backyards, parking lots etc. to take a huge bite out of projected demand and even gear down existing generation.

    blading the Mojave won’t contribute to mitigating climate change – nor will carving up Brown’s Bench or any of the other landscapes on the chopping-block. remember, as of yet – nobody’s taking any step to make as a condition of these developments mitigation measures such as decommissioning coal-fired plants etc. – as of now, “renewables” don’t mitigate climate change – they won’t until someone starts decommissioning the “bad” plants. there’s talk – but it’s not serious. current ideas about “renewable” plants are all to meet (and in a sick irony) generate increasing demand beyond what’s already generated. we can do that with roof-tops, existing transportation corridors, parking lots, marginal ag land that’s so abused it’s out of production anyway, etc.

    anything else is just to pad the pockets of investors – and reasonable alternatives are not happening, not because they can’t or it’d be more expensive – but because they don’t want to bother organizing investments in a different way – that spread the economic benefit out – they want to keep their investment arrangements just like they’ve been – a few bald white men speculatin’ in front of a map. the whole accounting of energy & carbon emissions that result is premised on future demand — economic speculation, sorta like the speculation that screwed us with housing, energy (elect. & oil), – that’s where the money comes from – it’s speculation about future growth – it’d be interesting to see whether the investors are using some of the same crooked real estate tools and credit default swap, etc. – i’d bet a nickel they are financed on these, and i’ll bet the appointment of a guy like Salazar shot those crooked investments through the roof ! sheesh – if that’s the case, they could be quad-insuring these investments, betting short and many of these guys’ll be making out even if the investments fail (all on our tax-secured bail-out dime !)…

    anyone who claims that these giant facilities are necessary is only doing so on the presumption that future growth rates of energy demand are ok, even desirable – and that the only way to advance economic growth in that fashion is to tackle the energy problem from the production-side. nobody’s calling for a “moonshot” to decrease consumption of energy – if they are, it pales in comparison to the self-aggrandized potential of human ingenuity & ambition on the production side !

    as mentioned, the conversation about energy production is relegated to growth-projections. bummer, IMO – the problem is unfettered growth in demand – nobody will decommission carbon generating power plants now because of the economic arguments — but if that’s the case, if we’re not willing to bite that bullet, we’re not really ever going to find a time when the economic argument isn’t there. building “renewables” (whether on rooftops or centralized) before that problem of a generalized strategy to grab outrageous demand growth-rates by the horns will only fuel even higher rates in growth of demand — cheap energy (hidden costs externalized onto other values like wildlife, landscapes, geopolitics etc.) is easy to waste, it encourages more waste faster.

    what will carl pope, NRDC, & to a growing degree CBD, & all the other cheerleaders for a centralized “renewable energy economy” do when the “renewable” production power plants are insufficient as the hyper-growth they encourage via the same flawed mechanisms as before (externalization of actual cost via direct & indirect public subsidy, speculative growth financing tools, etc.) use up the potential generation of the projects they’re green-lighting now — and the consumptive growth of the “renewable energy economy” demands more… and more… and more… there are only so many landscapes – so much wildlife. and we’re supposed to ignore or minimize the bellwether species – Salazar’s got plenty of experience there. Why not bite the bullet now and decrease the cost of energy by pumping all of the proposed public resource into mechanisms of conservation — conservation technologies that use a fraction of the energy – whether it be in homes, toys, transport, everything we use to consume. that might mean higher electricity per Kilowatt (oh god no !) but if less energy is used (both as a function of consumption-technology & price of energy) it seems to me the cost to a consumer could come out square.

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell

    ~ Ed Abbey

    “renewables” aren’t the solution to this cancer – at best, they’re a moderate anaesthesia and our failure to tame this cancerous, insatiable thirst to not be bothered with the thought of turning off the lights when we leave a room (and all the similar ‘pains’ all the way up the chain) does little more than kick the problem onto future generations – who will inevitably be confronted with the ‘pains’ of the impossibility/futility of an economic “standard of living” wholly dependent on unmitigated growth. They’ll be pained with turning out the lights (and all the similar ‘pains’ of the economic constrictions of confrontation with a sustainable economy all the way up the line) – but because we chose to avoid our responsibility by pushing them further and further out on the margins of this bubble – they will feel the “pains” of a diminished consumptive economic “standard of living” even more so, but not have as much opportunity to enrich their “standard of living” with alternatives that we take for granted today – in the appreciation of the natural world – the landscapes & wildlife – that we let go to facilitate that extra moment of elasticity.

  14. paulWTAMU Avatar

    I’d love to do my own rooftop solar panels, since in the high plains we do get enough sun…but I can’t afford them, period. bums me out. Not to mention doing my own upkeep–hailstorms are frequent here, to the point that it’s a rare year I don’t have to replace a windshield or window. Since solar panels wouldn’t be as noisy or nasty as coal or nuke plants though, maybe we could actually build them inside city limits? I know most cities I’ve been through have at least some significant chunks of the city were there are empty buildings and vacant lots. It wouldn’t work for rural people of course, but it might be workable for large portions of the American West and Southwest (if the smog isn’t too thick for them to work).

  15. kt Avatar

    WHY isn’t the Stimulus Bill going to funding putting solar on the rooftops of anyone who wants it?

  16. Brian Ertz Avatar

    what about wind ? I’ve seen some pretty neat residential wind setups.

    Katie’s right, the billions tax-payers are putting into the pockets of Enron-type ponsi-investors should go to residents on a sliding-scale – can you imagine the stimulus that’d generate? At least the same number of jobs – and the people it’d help – cut a little (or a lot) off of so many peoples’ utilities for decades – jeez.

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The stimulus bill does provide a 30% tax credit for solar panels and for solar water heaters. Moreover, it provides for tax credits for existing homes for many more generally desirable things.

    Here is a web page showing the tax credits to individuals for energy efficiency, solar, wind, and more. 30% is not 100%, of course, but a tax credit is much better than a tax deduction.

    I will be needing a new roof before long, and no doubt it will change from asphalt shingle to metal (like my previous home). There is a tax credit for a metal roof.

    There is much more, so look at . . .

  18. paulWTAMU Avatar

    thanks for the link!! Some of that stuff is pretty confusing but hopefully a contractor could help sort it out.

    I don’t know jack about wind, although the Panhandle does get a lot of it! I know when my parents looked at installing solar in their house (down in houston, and it’s a much bigger house than mine) the was was in the something-teen thousand range, which….well yeah way out of my budget. I’d love to see what it would cost but frankly, we just bought the house this year, and until my hospital stay is paid off (down to the last few grand!), and I get some new cages for my snakes (about 1200–need 3 big cages), there’s just no way we’re doing major renovations to it. First up is the windows, then the electrical stuff; this house was last rewired in the 60s and it shows. When we do the electrical system, I’ll take a look at solar and/or wind again; this will be 2-3 years at least though, so the tax credit won’t help me 🙁

  19. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    The east slope of Clark Mountain has been utilized for many extractive enterprises for many years. It has also been part of a number of off-road vehicle races, ie, SCORE and Barstow-to-Vegas desert races. However, much of the flora and fauna persists. Desert tortoises still crawl along many of the small sand washes that meander off the moountain. Alos there are many prehistoric village sites along the shores of what used to be a very pretty lake.

    Development has dominated this valley for many years. Whiskey Pete’s Casino developed into three casinos, plus a race track, and a golf course. The Primm Brothers have even more plans for their holdings. Interstate 70 bisects the valley. there was even a powerplant developed on BLM land in the 1990s, but was scrapped.

    I do not know what development will do to this valley. !0 miles east is another casino and a prison. It is also the starting area for many off road races. To the west is Mountain Pass, the site of a major “rare earth” mining operation. To the north is the major electric transmission corridor from Hoover Dam to southern California.

    It looks like Ivanpah is a write off. It is too bad, because this valley was always a joy behold driving into California. Now it will be miles of solar panels and it will be lost forever. As most of the valley is public land. the BLM should be held accountable for it’s loss.


  20. Todd Ringler Avatar

    Hi Ken,

    You wrote: Fourth, desert soils, which will be scraped of all life, are great carbon sinks and all of this carbon will be released to the atmosphere exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

    Can you expand on this a bit? All of the maps that I have seen show relatively little carbon in the Southwest, say compared to the Northwest or the tropics or just about anywhere that is outside semi-arid zones.


  21. kt Avatar

    Ralph – I am not one that knows the ins and outs of tax breaks – but it seems to me that only giving tax breaks for rooftop solar, and energy efficiency doesn’t help a whole lot of folks too much – because that is only part of the cost, and you have to fork out the money a year in advance for the whole cost. It is aimed at the upper middle class. Just giving tax breaks is part of the whole same, tired failed model and seems to me a token effort dabbling at the edges and not making a paradigm shift.

    Why not have an Americorps type project where people are given energy conservation and improvement training to evaluate someone’s home and the neighborhood or subdivision or whatever – prepare a portfolio of ways to conserve and “improve” and – and fund installation of whatever needs to be installed – while at the same time smart gridding is taking place to hook it all together. Do this EVERYWHERE.

    This too is really on a broader public lands scale where the leadership of the national enviro groups have miserably failed to respond in an intelligent and scientific way. They hype fear – claiming if we don’t destroy the desert at Ivanpah (or Browns Bench/China Mountain), polar bears will die – so there is nothing we can do but turn over public lands to developers . It is the same old broken model of massive industrialization and energy produced by, and in the hands of a few robber barons and energy companies who can assemble the billions (from investors, taxpayers, etc. including through being buddies of Harry Reid or the Idaho Congressional delegation or the like) – to build these environmental disasters.

  22. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You are pretty much right, but there are two strains of alternative energy in Obama’s programs — two paths. I wanted to point that out.

    It is up to us to push the Administration down the decentralized, safe, environmentally friendly path. That means opposing projects like the big wind “farm” on Brown’s Bench.

  23. kt Avatar

    Yes, and thank you – that info is helpful. But to get the administration – or Congress – to make big changes – there needs to be vocal opposition to going down the same failed path with “renewables”. And break through the chokehold of Big Energy, politicians and the failed leadership and failed vision of the big national enviro groups. Activists are far ahead of their supposed “leaders”.

  24. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It seems to me that Karl Pope, in particular, the E.D. of the Sierra Club pushed the Club in the direction of big wind, etc.

  25. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Amory Lovins made a lucid point about the conflict between encouraging increased efficiency and encouraging “green” supply technologies.

    The Negawatt Revolution (1989) :

    It is fashionable to say that we need to buy both supply and efficiency. We need balance. We need to do a bit of everything. (In practice, it’s sort of like the classic recipe for elephant and rabbit stew: one elephant, one rabbit!) The trouble with that philosophy is that you may get neither, because they compete for the same resources. Even worse, you may get both efficiency and supply, and thus (as we’ve lately been doing) bankrupt the supply industries. Because to pay for costly supply ventures they need more demand, not less. If you get both supply and efficiency, and both succeed, then you get the worst of both worlds. You get the supply side costs without the revenue to pay for them.

    The fact is – we in America use close to twice as much energy per capita as those in Europe that have an equitable standard of living. graph. There is more than enough potential to take this issue on through conservation. That’s not happening. The fact that the debate has been pulled to “which public lands to carve up” or “which generation technology to develop” without so much as a mention of concurrently implementing regulatory requirements that coal plants be decommissioned, is a failure in itself. The “Green” energy revolution is trumping the “Negawatt Revolution” and it’s our public lands and wildlife that are being put on the chopping block to facilitate this giant marketing scam – endless growth – “green” growth.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole