Environmentalists Eclipse Solar Energy
PV2 Energy, a San Francisco-based company, plans to build a $1.8 billion 399-megawatt solar farm in Panoche Valley, 50 miles southeast of Hollister in rural San Benito County. It’s the kind of renewable energy project the state of California wants to see more of, as opposed to electricity-generating plants fueled by coal, natural gas or, heaven forbid, nuclear material.
In fact, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law, SBX1-2, this past April mandating the state’s utilities to increase the electricity produced from renewable sources — like solar — to 33 percent by 2020. That’s an extremely ambitious target considering that altogether solar, wind, geothermal and biomass currently account for only 14 percent of the state’s electricity.
Ironically, the biggest obstacle to achieving the new 2020 mandate is not the state’s major utilities, all of which have eagerly embraced renewable energy (and the lavish taxpayer subsidies that come with such sources of electricity).
It’s the state’s environmentalists.
Indeed, just this week, a San Benito Court Superior Court judge heard arguments from a lawyer representing three environmental groups — the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and an outfit calling itself Save Panoche Valley — that want to kill PV2 Energy’s planned solar farm before the first megawatt is generated.
It’s not that the three groups are opposed to solar, Rose Zoia, the plantiffs’ attorney, told the court. “Solar obviously is very critical,” she said. “No one disputes the necessity for solar energy. The issue here is that it is improper on this site.”
The environmentalists claim that PV2 Energy’s plans fail to adequately protect endangered species on the Panoche Valley site, including the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the San Joaquin kit fox and the giant kangaroo rat. They also claim that the solar company neglected to consider alternative sites, like a 30,000 acre stretch of land 50 miles away in Kings and Fresno counties.
Both claims, which PV2 Energy addressed in its $800,000, 2,100-page Environmental Impact Report, are just obstructionist nonsense.
The Panoche Valley solar farm will have a 3,200-acre footprint. Meanwhile, PV2 Energy has set aside a whopping 23,000 acres adjacent to its solar farm as permanent habitat for the aforementioned lizard, fox and rat and whatever other endangered critters need protection from its pole-mounted solar panels.
As to the alternative site proposed by the environmental groups, PV2 Energy simply doesn’t own it. And acquiring the land, if it is at all possible, would take who knows how many years and how many tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
Of course, none of that matters to the environmental groups opposing the Panoche Valley solar farm. They simply don’t want the project built in their back yard.
We’ve seen the same kind of environmental obstructionism play out in other parts of the state. Like the federal lawsuit filed in January by the Western Watershed Project to kill the $2.2 billion, 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, owned by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, in the Mohave Desert. The environmental group says that construction of Ivanpah endangers desert tortoises on the site.
Gov. Brown was so perturbed by WWP’s lawsuit that he filed a brief last month with the U.S. District Court defending Ivanpah. The solar project “is an important part of California’s overall efforts to transform its energy future,” the governor stated, adding that it “will reduce California’s dependence on fossil fuels.”
It remains to be seen how the state Superior Court judge rules on the Panoche Valley solar farm and the federal District Court judge on the Ivanpah Solar Project.
If the obstructionist environmental groups succeed in killing, or delaying indefinitely, the two solar projects, Gov. Brown and other advocates of renewable energy may find themselves agreeing with California’s business community that reforms need to be enacted to rein in the state’s all-to-litigious environmental groups.
– Joseph Perkins
June 17, 2013