Concerns about environmental impacts play a big role in energy policy decisions. Concerns over the impacts of running traditional fossil-fueled generation helped create a market for renewable power. At the same time, concerns about the local impacts to wildlife of siting a particular renewable project can make the project cost-prohibitive or even impossible.
BrightSource Energy has been building a large solar power project in California's Mojave Desert. Construction of Phase I of the 392 MW Ivanpah solar project broke ground in October 2010, with two subsequent phases slated for development shortly thereafter. As construction progressed, the developer ran into tortoises at the site -- more tortoises than were assumed when the project got a key approval from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. In April 2011, BrightSource was advised by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that BrightSource needed a revised biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service that the project development wouldn't harm the threatened desert tortoise. BrightSource stopped construction of units 2 and 3 of the project.
Now, BrightSource is back to work. Last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion that the project will not endanger tortoises, provided that a list of stipulations are followed: ranging from relocating tortoises and predator protections, to fencing and an employee environmental awareness program.
This story illustrates an example of how concerns over environmental quality shape energy policy. For project developers and wildlife defenders alike, it also suggests that we have ways to balance competing environmental concerns such as tortoises and clean renewable energy.