CEC Reconsiders Large Desert Solar Permit

By Published On: November 28, 2010

The California Energy Commission withdrew its approval of a planned desert solar power plant in response to claims that Tessera Solar’s 663 MW Calico project was improperly licensed last month. Energy Commission chair Karen Douglas issued a Nov. 19 order rescinding the project license. The permit is set for reconsideration at the commission’s Dec. 1 business meeting. The commission “will also consider ordering, on its own motion, reconsideration of the effective date of the decision,” Douglas’ order adds. The Calico Solar project was unanimously approved Oct. 28 over the objections of environmental and community groups that warned of the project’s potential harm to local wildlife. The Sierra Club insisted that Calico could result in negative impacts, including causing the deaths or extinction of “scores” of animals, including desert tortoises, the fringe-toed lizard, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, badgers, desert foxes and burrowing owls. Almost two weeks after the permit approval, an attorney for California Unions for Reliable Energy struck back. In a Nov. 11 letter, CURE wrote that the commission failed to file required written findings about environmental consequences Calico would create before it approved the project. “The glitches in procedure were merely clerical in nature, not substantive,” the project’s applicant, Arizona-based Tessera Solar, responded. The company says it expects the commission to re-approve Calico once the clerical issues have been addressed. Attorneys for groups opposing the project, including the Sierra Club and CURE, say they’re considering filing legal challenges to stop Calico from being built. As it’s currently configured, the project, which would sit on 4,600 acres in the Mojave Desert, would have 26,450 solar collection discs called “SunCatchers,” configured in 442 groups of 60 discs each about 37 miles east of Barstow in San Bernardino County. Each SunCatcher would generate about 1.5 MW. If the project isn’t put on hold or cancelled during the commission’s Dec. 1 meeting, construction could begin by the end of the year, and take about 44 months to complete, according to Tessera. That would allow it to reap a federal cash grant covering 30 percent of the $2 billion project’s cost.

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