Of all the headlines floating around over the past week, one in particular caught my eye. Rather, it wasn’t a headline; it was a picture of one adorable creature.
Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps my soft spot is softer than yours, a byproduct of not having outgrown my childhood love for reptiles and still secretly aspiring to achieve my life-long dream of becoming a paleontologist.
But that is neither here nor now.
What is here and is now is that two of our great passions—protecting animals and generating energy from renewable sources—may be on a course to collide. The Washington Post brought this issue to light this past week in discussing how BrightSource Energy’s $2.2 billion solar farm project in the Mojave desert is being brought to a standstill by the threatened desert tortoise.
What are the facts in this case? Accounts say that BrightSource was warned that they would be infringing on a part of the Mojave rich with these hardshells–the exact number of which was unknown. Yet, because the site is ideal for solar energy generation, BrightSource decided to pursue. U.S. Fish and Wildlife granted BrightSource a permit to move a maximum of 38 tortoises from the location and a total of three accidental deaths per year over the three years of planned construction.
Their first concession to the tortoise came at the expense of 10 percent of the project’s expected power output, by adopting a re-designed plan that reduced the size of the solar towers. They then agreed to build a 50-mile fence, at a cost of $50,000 per mile, to prevent tortoises from relocating back into harms way once removed. During all of this, biologists surveying the site continued to find more and more tortoises than estimates yielded. In all, BrightSource has spent $56 million so far to protect and relocate the tortoises, but even this has been met with problems for the tortoise. BrightSource, for their end, states that their efforts to help the tortoise could sink the project–and in turn sink California’s efforts to meet its proposed renewable energy goals.
This story highlights the need and often overlooked importance of the National Environment Policy Act’s environmental impact statement (EIS). You’ve probably heard a lot about the EIS recently; it’s been at the heart of the Keystone XL struggle, with Nebraskans asking to complete a new environmentally impact statement that reviews a pipeline course that does not run through the Sandhills region. The whole purpose of an EIS is to assess the impacts of a particular project. Whether or not it is actually required of a project, the value of such considerations comes to light in situations such as this one with BrightSource and the desert tortoise. It’s clear that a thorough and well conducted EIS can actually help companies (believe it or not) avoid situations that may end up costing them $56 million dollars more than they were anticipating for a project.
So now I’ll pose the question to you: What do we do in a situation like this? Do we protect this cherished species at all costs or try at all costs to maintain our place as the top renewable energy using nation? (Check on Christian Science Monitor‘s article for more on that.) Weigh in with your thoughts.
My thought on the situation: this beloved species has weathered 220 million years on this planet; it would certainly be a shame that it be lost to the war on fossil fuels.