State Supremes Reject Calico Permit Challenges

By Published On: April 15, 2011

The California Supreme Court rejected two lawsuits seeking to invalidate the state certification of the 663 MW Calico solar thermal project, which is to be largely converted into a photovoltaic facility. The state high court April 13 denied without comment petitions challenging the California Energy Commission’s certification of the project slated for the Southern California desert. The suits by the Sierra Club and California Unions for Reliable Energy alleged the Energy Commission’s siting process failed to comply with the Warren-Alquist Act. “Today’s court ruling is a boon for California’s economy and could pave the way for hundreds of construction and operator jobs over the next several years,” stated Bob Weisenmiller, Energy Commission chair. “Our commitment to renewable energy sources maintains California’s leadership in this vital, growing sector of the world’s economy,” he added. The permit road remains impeded, however. The Energy Commission, along with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which also approved the project to be built on public land in the Mojave Desert, faces legal challenges in a federal district court. BNSF railway, the second largest rail company in the United States, sued in the Central District Court in California. It claims the project approvals of siting of 26,000 solar sun dishes threaten its rail line and workers in violation of numerous state and federal laws. It claims the project would allow access to its property and that the “dangerous” dishes would interfere with five miles of its rail operations in the Mojave Desert, creating rail crossing signal hazards. However, because of technological and financial challenges the original Calico developer, Tessera, at the end of last year sold the development rights to K Road Power, a small energy project developer based in San Diego. K Road plans to convert the project largely from Dish Stirling engines to photovoltaic technology. The technology change must be approved by the Energy Commission. The commission is set to take up a licensing amendment April 20. How the change in technology affects the BNSF suit is unknown at this time “It is not clear to the commission that any decision on a petition to modify the certification would have any effect on legal challenges to the original certification in any event, since those challenges are based upon claims made in response to a previous proceeding,” stated Sandy Louey, commission spokesperson. The federal judge handling the claim set a status conference for May 2. The Energy Commission “hopes he will reset the commission’s motion to dismiss,” according to Louey.

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