L.A. not buy­ing power from Mo­jave so­lar plant

The city changes its mind, cit­ing con­cerns by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists over planned Soda Moun­tain project.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Louis Sahagun

The city of Los An­ge­les has dropped plans to buy elec­tric­ity from a con­tro­ver­sial so­lar plant pro­posed for the Mo­jave Desert, de­liv­er­ing a se­ri­ous blow to the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive re­new­able en­ergy project in the state.

City of­fi­cials said Thurs­day that the Soda Moun­tain So­lar Project would be too dam­ag­ing to bighorn sheep, desert tor­toises and other wildlife near the site along In­ter­state 15, just south of Baker and less than a mile from the Mo­jave Na­tional Pre­serve.

The de­ci­sion was made af­ter a Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power re­view found that other pro­posed re­new­able en­ergy projects would charge the city less for elec­tric­ity and would have fewer chal­lenges in de­liv­er­ing the power to Los An­ge­les.

Bech­tel Corp., de­vel­oper of the plant, had hoped that Los An­ge­les would buy most of the power. Ron Tobler, project devel­op­ment manager for Bech­tel, said the com­pany is ne­go­ti­at­ing with other prospec­tive cus­tom- ers for the elec­tric­ity.

An­a­lysts said those prospects are re­mote — and time is of the essence.

If the project does not get a power pur­chase agree­ment signed soon, “it will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for it to pro­ceed with devel­op­ment,” said Cory Honey­man, a se­nior so­lar an­a­lyst at the con­sult­ing firm GTM Re­search. That’s largely be­cause the win­dow is closing on el­i­gi­bil­ity for a 30% fed­eral tax credit for the project.

The city’s de­ci­sion came as a wel­come sur­prise to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

“The Sierra Club is de­lighted to see the city do the right thing and choose not to sign a power pur­chase

agree­ment with this harm­ful project,” said Sarah Fried­man, a se­nior cam­paign rep­re­sen­ta­tive with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We sup­port clean en­ergy, but this is the wrong place to do it.”

Bech­tel said it se­lected the site be­cause of its sunny skies, f lat ter­rain and prox­im­ity to the Mar­ket­place-Ade­lanto trans­mis­sion line, which is man­aged by the DWP and pro­vides elec­tric­ity to about 3.9 mil­lion peo­ple in a ser­vice area cov­er­ing 465 square miles.

Op­po­nents in­clud­ing busi­ness lead­ers from the nearby com­mu­ni­ties of Baker, New­berry Springs and Shoshone urged the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment to re­ject the project, which they be­lieve would com­pro­mise ef­forts to re­store migration routes for about 100 bighorn sheep.

A week ago, the BLM at­tempted to ad­dress en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns by is­su­ing a fi­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment propos­ing to elim­i­nate ar­rays of so­lar pan­els north of the I-15, re­duc­ing the pho­to­voltaic so­lar fa­cil­ity’s size from 2,557 to 1,923 acres and low­er­ing its out­put from 358 to 264 megawatts.

The de­ci­sion an­gered en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, who wanted the BLM and its par­ent agency, the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior, to scut­tle the project as too harm­ful.

David Lam­from, a spokesman for the non­profit Na­tional Parks Con­serva- tion Assn., said the city’s de­ci­sion is one “the desert has been wait­ing for: Los An­ge­les stands up to take the lead­er­ship role at a time when the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior re­fuses to pro­tect our nat­u­ral re­sources.”

“This place de­serves to con­tinue as it ex­ists right now,” he said.

Bi­ol­o­gists are work­ing on pro­pos­als to reestab­lish key migration cor­ri­dors for bighorn sheep sep­a­rated from the north and south Soda Moun­tains by the I-15. Such link­ages would help en­sure that bighorn sheep pop­u­la­tions, which have ex­pe­ri­enced re­mark­able growth in re­cent years, do not be­come ge­net­i­cally iso­lated.

One plan un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is to use tubs of drink­ing wa­ter to coax sheep, which rarely cross the 1-15, to walk through culverts un­der the free­way.

An­other ap­proach calls for con­struct­ing a con­crete bridge so sheep could cross over the free­way, which links Los An­ge­les with Las Ve­gas. That pro­posal, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say, could be costly and re­quire ap­proval from agen­cies in­clud­ing the state Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife and Cal­trans.

Buy­ing power from the Soda Moun­tain plant could help the city meet its goal of pro­vid­ing 35% of its elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources by 2020 and elim­i­nate coal from its power mix by 2025. But Garcetti said the city is look­ing at re­newal projects closer to the city to meet the goals.

Bech­tel’s re­quest to use the DWP’s trans­mis­sion lines to de­liver power into the elec­tri­cal grid is still un­der re­view, city of­fi­cials said.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

THE CON­TRO­VER­SIAL so­lar plant would be built along In­ter­state 15, just south of Baker and less than a mile from the Mo­jave Na­tional Pre­serve.

Pho­tog raphs by Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

A DUST DEVIL swirls on the edge of Soda Lake in the Mo­jave Na­tional Pre­serve. A pro­posed so­lar plant project nearby has drawn op­po­si­tion over con­cerns that it would be too dam­ag­ing to bighorn sheep, desert tor­toises and other wildlife in the area.

MO­JAVE DESERT res­i­dent Ja­cob Over­son, left, and David Lam­from of the Na­tional Parks Con­ser­va­tion Assn. at the pro­posed Soda Moun­tain project site.

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