Environment, Technology and Culture



Green Civil War

They say that we want renewable energy, but we don't want you to put it anywhere. I mean, if we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it. -California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yale

University, 20091

The persistent strong winds and strong insolation of the Western deserts have reemerged as beacons for a new resource rush, this time for land on which to harness renewable energy. In the California deserts, earlier rushes brought mining and other extractive industries-gold and silver mining, boron harvesting, grazing, and later, various recreational uses. As renewables began to take a foothold here in the I98os, the wind industry built extensive wind farms at desert sites in the San Gorgonio and Teh- achapi Passes, and a company called Lux built nine utility-scale solar thermal power plants. Together, these projects would help make Califor- nia the global leader in renewable energy throughout the 1980s and 1990s. And they were built out with relatively little controversy.2

Later efforts to deploy solar energy in America's southwestern deserts, where the most solar energy is present, quickly encountered significant resistance, mainly due to their placement on ecologically and culturally sensitive land. Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities on the order of square miles in size, some with over a gigawatt of power capacity and capable of providing power to tens of thousands of homes, were proposed, which would have required clearing tens of thousands of acres of vegetation and grading land with heavy equipment. Numer- ous projects slated for solar energy development on public lands would be on quality habitat for the Agassiz's desert tortoise ( Gopherus agas- sizii), a federally threatened species.3


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Conservationists worried about the wholesale transformation of vast stretches of public lands and open desert into industrial zones of renew- able energy production. Since most public lands are in conservation by default, owing to never having been put to work under Homestead Act provisions, mainly due to a lack of water, this meant that the lands offered for solar development were bound to raise concerns for ecosystem and cultural resource conservation, particularly land managed under the Cal- ifornia Desert Protection Act. So much high-quality desert habitat com- ing under development pressure was alarming to environmental groups as well as to Native American tribes.

As many states pursued ambitious climate change and renewable energy goals, USSE projects were proposed across public lands and the deserts of the American Southwest. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 15.2 million acres of public lands in California (this is about 6% of the total land area it manages across the United States).4 The agency's policies and practices affect biodiversity conservation on over 250 million acres across the contiguous U.S. The BLM's conserva- tion management agenda must be balanced with other agency missions, because it has manages such varied activities as energy development, grazing, geologic exploration, and off-road vehicle recreation. These opposing commitments can pit endangered species conservation against renewable energy development. The BLM is typically being pulled in different directions by multiple missions and stakeholder concerns.5

Solar developers were attracted to California because it is the largest renewables market by far and offers higher electricity prices, which translate into more profitable contracts to purchase electricity. Voters, and customers of electric utilities, show widespread support for renewa- bles." Renewable energy projects have bipartisan support, according to most polls and surveys of public opinion, especially in California.7 USSE development is largely driven by public support for regulation, legisla- tive action, or utility investments that aim to meet environmental or climate goals, such as state renewable portfolio standards, which were responsible for many early projects. One study of the politics of the solar renaissance in the Mojave Desert pointed to the role of negative public attitudes to deserts in mobilizing public support for renewables on public lands and support for action on climate change as reasons that the projects were not opposed by major environmental organiza- tions. 8 A telephone survey of residents of the California deserts suggests that proximity to project development does influence the degree of opposition.9 This chapter aims to illustrate how many of these projects

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came into conflict over land-use and ecosystem impacts, particularly projects proposed on public lands managed by the BLM. To understand why these land-use conflicts emerged when and where they did requires a deeper investigation of the recent conservation history of the region. The BLM's solar policy sparked a debate about using public lands for

low-carbon energy generation versus ecosystem conservation and wilder- ness preservation. The landmark California Desert Protection Act of 1994 fundamentally altered the management of public lands across 25 million acres of Southern California desert. In the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA), public lands designated by the Congress in 1976 would be managed for multiple use, sustained yield, and environmental quality. The 2 5 million acres of CDCA lands contain r 1 million acres managed by BLM, 5.3 million acres of national parks, 4.2 million acres of private land, 3.2 million acres of military bases, and r.r million acres owned by the state of California, with the rest being Indian lands and wildlife ref- uges. Championed by U.S. senator Diane Feinstein (D-California), the bill designated 3.6 million acres of BLM lands as wilderness and off-limits to energy development, as well as transferring millions of acres of public lands to the National Park Service.'? The initial applications to the BLM included dozens of proposals to build USSE projects within the CDCA. This tension between ensuring that areas of high concern in the California deserts remain conserved and the availability of land for lease for solar development to slow carbon pollution led to inevitable conflict, particu- larly in this region of California.

USSE power plant construction entails transformation of the desert landscape, with surface impacts comparable to those of agriculture. Solar farms commonly require extensive surface scraping, grading, and bulldozing across thousands of acres of flora and fauna. Projects can also include dozens of miles of roads. With some solar power plants measuring up to eight kilometers on a side, a single project can have serious implications for wildlife. On public lands in the West that were under a strong stewardship regime for more than a century, rural and wild desert landscapes are transformed into industrial ones. Critics argued that solar power plants were never land uses considered in the scientific evaluation that informed the CDCA planning and that a care- ful approach to development needed to balance the interests of solar energy developers and environmental conservation.

When public lands across the American Southwest were drafted into the fight against climate change, it set off local controversies that pitted vulnerable ecosystems against renewable energy development. Solar

Green Civil War I II7

developments on public lands managed by the BLM became entangled in controversies over impacts on biodiversity and threatened or endan- gered species, particularly the desert tortoise. The intensive land-use impacts of USSE development raised many questions about local eco- systems, embroiling projects in controversy and even causing fissures between issues of climate and biodiversity in the "green" community.

This conflict between solar projects and wilderness preservation led the editors of the New York Times to call it a "green civil war. "11 Despite the ecological problems with many of the proposed projects, advocates of strong climate change policies chastised those concerned about tor- toises, birds, cultural artifacts, and public lands for being shortsighted. Arnold Schwarzenegger-an outspoken solar advocate during his tenure as California's governor-leveled public criticisms at those raising con- cerns about the Mojave Desert's ecosystems and inhabitants. In a public talk at Yale University, Schwarzenegger described opponents as NIMBY- ists and the desert as a wasteland with no better use.12 These views high- lighted the urgency of reducing emissions to ward off climate catastro- phe and stressed the need for solar energy innovation and deployment, but also often lacked any sensitivity to ecological impacts that might fol- low. To renewable energy advocates, these land and finance policies would help foster innovation in the solar energy industry and make important contributions to decarbonization and climate security. Desert wilderness organizations-the Wildlands Conservancy, Wilderness Soci- ety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, to name a few-argued that alternative sites, including abandoned agricultural land, brownfields, abandoned mines, and other disturbed lands, were more appropriate for solar energy development. These organizations questioned the wisdom of using vulnerable ecosystems for energy devel- opment when more appropriate sites were available.



The history of renewable energy development on public lands owes much more to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, along with a series of subsequent secretarial orders making 22. 5 million acres of BLM lands available for solar development. Championed by then Colorado senator Ken Salazar, the bipartisan Energy Policy Act encouraged renewable energy projects on public lands by 2015. Often referred to as the BLM's "renewable energy mandate," the language specifically says:

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It is the sense of the Congress that the Secretary of the Interior should, before the end of the r o-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, seek to have approved non-hydropower renewable energy projects located on the public lands with a generation capacity of at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity."

Since a production ramp-up in the 1970s, public lands have become important sites of domestic energy production. In 2008, nearly 10% of the federal mineral estate, including the subsurface, was under lease for oil and gas development." As the new secretary of the interior, in 2009 Salazar signaled a new era in the management of energy development on public lands with Secretarial Order 3 28 5. The BLM made relatively inexpensive and contiguous public lands available for lease to solar developers. The public land was attractive to solar developers because it was cheaper than private land. Land prices can be hard to predict when negotiating deals among multiple owners. Developers were also aware that the BLM had authority to "fast-track" environmental and cultural resource reviews for selected projects eligible for DOE loan guarantees. To maintain eligibility for finance, companies had to demonstrate that their projects were "shovel ready" and economically viable."

The pace and scale of proposed landscape transformation was unprec- edented in the American Southwest. Nearly a tenth of the total land that BLM manages was made available on a first-come, first-served basis for solar development. If granted, this would be the largest transfer of public lands to private use in U.S. history. The mandate to develop renewables on public lands made renewable energy development "one of the Depart- ment's highest priorities," instructing agencies to fast-track new applica- tions and remove impediments to permitting, siting, and development of renewable energy projects seeking ARRA support.16 It allowed proposed renewable energy facilities, some of which had been in queue since 2005, to proceed with applications for right-of-way (ROW) permits on public lands. ROW authorizations grant specific rights to individuals and com- panies to use public lands for projects for a specified time. The public lands were not privatized exactly, but virtually privatized for some time into the future (before returning to federal ownership). Developers would have all of the authority and rights of a private landowner with- out actually retaining the rights to land.

Companies of all sorts and sizes-from the largest multinational energy corporations and financial services firms to startup venture capi- tal firms with little more equipment than rented sport utility vehicles-

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were enticed to the desert by the promise of profits in the clean-energy race and the West's latest land and resource rush.

The BLM used the ROW application process to offer land leases to developers through a process required under its guiding "organic act," the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA, often pronounced "flip-ma"). FLPMA requires that the BLM administer land on a "multiple use" basis, accounting for the views of stakeholders. Under new provisions in FLPMA, in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and in several executive and administrative orders, the BLM was authorized to grant ROW permits for renewable energy projects on public lands. "We're open for business with respect to renewable energy on public lands," Interior Secretary Salazar would declare in 2009 .17

BLM had historically authorized ROWs for water and gas pipelines, water storage, roads, oil and gas leases, and "systems for generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy," making the approach consistent with the leasing practices for grazing permits and other resource and recreational uses where formal land rights are nor custom- ary." Land is leased to solar energy developers at rates that are based on a combination of power capacity and total acreage. The BLM earns Interior tens of millions of dollars from ROW leases to USSE power plants.19 The rates adopted by the BLM aim to reflect market costs at the same time as becoming an important source of agency revenue. The cost of land is a relatively small portion of the overall cost of USSE facilities, but it still a cost that can be saved on. The lease option allows solar developers to avoid some up-front costs, making the project more economical. Other benefits of using public lands include favorable lease rates, the fast-tracking of environmental and cultural resource reviews, and the benefit of negotiating with a single land manager.

In June 2009, flanked by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Secretary Salazar proclaimed, "We are putting a bull's-eye on the development of solar energy on our public lands."20 Desert conservation experts and activ- ists saw a "land rush" and "virtual privatization of public lands. "21 The adjective "virtual" is used because the lands are not taken out of the pub- lic domain, but they are removed from public access.22 The announcement by Salazar that public lands would be available for renewable energy brought interest from developers, entrepreneurs, and speculators, includ- ing major Wall Street investment banks, investor-owned utilities, and ven- ture capital firms. By the end of 2009, there were ROW applications pro- posing solar power plants on over a million acres of ELM-managed public


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lands-more than the public lands used for bedrock and coal mining and oil and gas development since the passage of the Mining Act of 1872.

Companies with varying business interests, from investment houses like Goldman Sachs to startup photovoltaic manufacturer OptiSolar, sought ROW applications, each on hundreds of thousands of acres. In aggregate, the proposed projects represented several times the amount of renewable electricity that California investor owned-utilities must buy to satisfy RPS obligations and far more power than needed to fulfill the BLM's own 10 GW renewable energy mandate. Only a portion of the projects would have had guaranteed markets for their renewable electricity, so the BLM was processing applications knowing that a por- tion would never be built or permitted.

From 2005 through 2017, the BLM received over 400 ROW applica- tions for solar projects. By 2010, active applications covered 1.2 million acres across the American Southwest.23 California alone had 79 solar energy facility applications representing 569,802 acres of BLM lands and estimated at 48 GW of power (Figure 6}. The California RPS would require about 20 GW by 2020, so there was already over twice the amount of power officially seeking permits as would be required to fulfill the first RPS targets.24 Developers' ambitions were larger on public than on private lands, averaging over 700 MW per project. This average is larger than the largest USSE actually built in California (Desert Sunlight, in Desert Center, and Topaz, in California Valley, are rated at 550 MW each). One project proposed in 2006 was a 4 GW solar farm, six times larger than the largest solar plant in operation ten years later. The 648 MW array in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, India is the largest USSE facility in the world as of 2017.25 By 2017 only 32 of the 400 projects proposed for USSE on public lands had been built, and only a handful are still under development.

ROW authorizations are subject to provisions in FLPMA for public participation and to the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires that all federal actions "significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" undergo a thorough environ- mental review.26 Lead agencies must disclose the potential environmen- tal impacts of a project and several alternative versions to potentially mitigate them.27 ROW authorizations, and the environmental review entailed therein, became flashpoints in conflicts over solar energy devel- opment on public lands. Several loan-guarantee applicants were deeply concerned that NEPA compliance would delay their ability to break ground or meet required spending mileposts.28 Congress debated exempting all stimulus spending from NEPA, but decided against it.29





l~ight-of-Way (ROW) 250

Applications under ,.onsideration by BLM





• • Total Solar ROWs American Southwest ◄- California Solar ROWs -Total Renewable Energy ROWs

American Southwest -Approved Renewable Energy ROWs

American Southwest

ol..er; • • 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

1 1GURE 6. Bureau of Land Management right-of-way applications, 2005 to 2016.

Ultimately, California senator Barbara Boxer added an amendment that became Section 1609 of ARRA, requiring that federal agencies devote adequate resources to expeditiously complete environmental reviews.l" The volume of ROW applications for projects on public lands over-

whelmed some local BLM district offices. At the office in New Mexico, near a proposed "low-conflict" Solar Energy Zone, one official com- plained of a lack of time to prepare an adequate assessment of solar energy development on public lands they manage.31 USSE proposals were different from the other kinds of land-use proposals, such as trans- mission line development, grazing, hunting, and recreation activities, that the agency's experts were used to evaluating. In areas where solar applications were landing, many district offices did not have time to properly evaluate proposed solar projects. They were also unsure of what solar development entails specifically. Does it keep vegetation intact, or do developers leave sites barren of topsoil? How many roads are needed? Are groundwater wells required? Although no agency offi- cial would go on record owing to the controversial nature of the ques- tion, there was a sense of dissent among agency staff, particularly among

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Pacific solar investments 63,000

FIG u RE 7. A handful of firms had most of the right-of-way applications (by acreage) for public lands in 2008.

employees responsible for conservation-related issues at the BLM such as habitat management plans or other land stewardship issues. One California BLM scientist complained of lack of resources to conduct long-overdue resource conservation plans with staff time dedicated to processing ROW applications and providing input to everyone from counties to the federal government regarding solar power plant devel- opment. Figure 6 shows ROW applications over time for renewable across all public lands, USSE projects, and USSE projects in California. Figure 7 shows the relative share of ROW acreage applied for by several firms.

One difference between grazing and energy leasing ( development of solar, oil and gas, coal, etc.) is how the projects change access to public lands. Industrial facilities like utility-scale solar power plants require fencing and private security to ensure public safety and reliable opera- tion. This means historic access is restricted, often with cyclone fences, sometimes topped with razor wire. Oil and gas equipment has a smaller footprint, and often the equipment does not restrict site access at all, there are simply signs that say, "Enter at your own risk." This helps

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explains the opposition to solar power plants by many hunters and even libertarian activists who are concerned about public access. In fact, the land at the center of the controversy between Cliven Bundy and the BLM that started in 2014-a long-standing dispute over unpaid grazing fees-was rumored to be an inaccurate "fake news" story claiming grazing lands were being sold off for solar and wind development.32

Public lands have historically required administrative review through a lengthy environmental review process involving local, state, and fed- eral agencies, stakeholders, and the public. Executive Order 13212, signed by president George W. Bush in 2001, directed federal agencies to expand and expedite environmental reviews of oil, gas, and coal pro- duction on public lands, a move suggested by the Cheney Energy Task Force. The order opens with statement that "the increased production and transmission of energy in a safe and environmentally sound manner is essential. "33 The order also instructed federal agencies to take all actions possible to expedite the permitting and construction of projects that would "increase energy production, transmission, or conservation of energy ... while maintaining safety, public health, and environmen- tal protections. "34 This became the legal basis for fast-tracking solar energy ROW applications funded by ARRA.

In October 2010, the Department of the Interior authorized six fast- tracked USSE facilities covering 21,324 acres.35 To ensure that ARRA milestones could be achieved, these projects were fast-tracked so they could "be reasonably built before the ARRA funds expire."36 This became the so-called "shovel-ready" provision, a fast-track status for expedited environmental impact assessment.37 Over the next 25 days, several more would be announced, with 3 GW of cumulative nameplate capacity.38 These approvals made several projects eligible for DOE loan guarantees. Solar Millennium, for example, was approved two months later for a $2.1 billion ARRA loan guarantee to build the 1 GW Blythe solar power plant. But the loan was never finalized before Solar Millen- nium filed for bankruptcy just fourteen months later.39 Fourteen USSE projects were identified as fast-track projects-twelve in California, and two in Arizona." For projects built on public lands this meant that groundbreaking would have to commence before the end of 20n, just over a year away. The selection of fast-track USSE projects in California was through a

memorandum of understanding between the California governor and the interior secretary.41 This Renewable Energy Policy Group worked with the Renewable Energy Action Team, composed of representatives of the

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California Energy Commission, the BLM, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Michael Picker led this effort as both Arnold Schwarzenegger's and Jerry Brown's senior adviser to the governor for renewable energy facilities. In this early phase of development, local BLM district offices did not provide solar developers or the national BLM any guidance about appropriate sites to minimize environmental impacts. The main information given to developers was from the Renewable Energy Action Team, with input from the California governor's office and the Department of the Interior. Desert conservation organizations were readily able to differentiate state and federal officials who appeared to be making decisions at the BLM (national) level instead of using the district office agency staff, "real peo- ple, the individuals working on the ground. "42

Environmental groups were not sure which of the r.2 million acres of projects in California would be ultimately fast-tracked, so they found it difficult to keep up with the "land rush and feeding-frenzy mentality." This made it challenging to legally intervene in environmental review processes. Though the landscape was full of proposed projects, it was not until 2010 that any were approved. "The BLM permitting system set up to process solar applications is basically broken ... that is why after five years there still hasn't been one project approved. A lot have been speculative projects. "43 This speculation referred to companies that applied for ROW permits, not because they intended to develop projects, but because they planned to sell their permits to other compa- nies seeking land for projects.

Fast-tracking was intended to benefit solar developers by signaling to the investment community that there would be no regulatory barriers in the siting process. One month after the spate of fast-track approvals in 2010, one company, Tessera, which had not one but two of the six fast- track projects under development and approved by BLM-the Imperial Valley solar project and the Calico project-went bankrupt. Tessera sold its development pipeline of planned projects for an undisclosed sum to K Road Power, a group of Goldman Sachs executives, who planned to use photovoltaic modules instead of Tessera's novel but troubled SunCatcher Stirling dish design." The projects would continue to advance through permitting, even though there was little information about K Road or the photovoltaic technology or layout it planned. Table 10 shows the projects selected for fast-track status.

Opponents argued that by weakening environmental review with fast-track authority, the agency was exposing itself to litigation where

Green Civil War 12.5

projects encountered threatened or endangered species such as the iconic Agassiz's desert tortoise. Environmental organizations specifi- cally working on issues related to the tortoise became particularly con- cerned about solar development at Iron Mountain, Chuckwalla Valley, McCoy Wash, Pisgah Crater, and the lvanpah Valley. The BLM esti- mated 161,943 ha of Agassiz's desert tortoise habitat would be directly impacted by USSE development across the American Southwest. The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Defend- ers of Wildlife sued to stop development of K Road's 4,000-acre Calico Solar Project, located on the controversial Catellus lands, after failure of a formal protest to BLM director Bob Abbey about a controversial desert tortoise relocation plan for the project. "If this project moves forward at this location, Calico will irreversibly harm the sensitive Pis- gah Valley and the desert tortoise," argued Kim Delfino, a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife. 45

Several fast-tracked solar projects were targeted by litigation. A law- suit by the Quechan tribe and the La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protec- tion Circle over six utility-scale solar projects went before the Southern District Court of California alleging that the BLM had failed to consult with tribes as required by a memorandum of understanding between them.46 The plaintiffs maintained that the BLM had violated the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act by inadequately consulting with Native American tribes regarding the siting of the projects and potential resource conflicts. The courts eventually dismissed the case.

The fast-track process that expedited the environmental review of numerous projects on western public lands is one of the primary drivers of these environmental and cultural resource controversies. Fast- tracking ensured that ARRA support could be applied to particular projects, fostering the innovation and green job growth that ARRA projects were intended to create alongside low-carbon electricity. Ulti- mately, the BLM fast-tracked 31 projects slated for ARRA support.47 These same institutional machinations undergirding BLM land and Cal- ifornia climate policy put the lack of a robust environmental review on a collision course with controversies over desert biodiversity.

Procedural justice issues are interwoven with the solar siting contro- versies and may continue to challenge solar energy transitions moving forward. The American West is unique in many ways owing to the great species diversity and the fragility of western habitats compared to deciduous or tropical environments, which also face siting challenges


MW rating

Project name Developer Technology type (proposed) Public lands (total) DOE loan? Status"

Ivanpah Solar Electric BrightSource Energy Power tower 370 (400) 3,472 ac. (4,073) $1.6 billion Fast-tracked, approved, operating since 2014

Blythe Solar Power Solar Millenium & Parabolic trough 968 6,300 ac. (7,025) $2.1 billion Fast-tracked, approved/ operating

Project Chevron Energy (declined) since 2017

Desert Sunlight Solar First Solar Photovoltaic 550 4,144 ac. $1.46 billion Fast-tracked, approved, operating

Project Development since 2015

Genesis I Ford Dry Next Era Energy Parabolic trough 250 1,950 ac. $852 million Fast-tracked, approved, operating

Lake Solar Energy Resources since 2015

Project Stirling Energy Solar Stirling Energy Stirling engine 850 8,230 ac. No

Fast-tracked, approved, declared

One Systems bankruptcy

Stirling Energy Solar Stirling Energy Stirling engine No Fast-tracked, approved, declared

Two Systems bankruptcy

Calico Solar Project K Road Power Photovoltaic & 663.5 4,604 ac. No Permit denied

Stirling engine

Imperial Valley Solar Stirling Energy Stirling engine 709 6,360 ac. No Withdrawn

Project Systems Desert Harvest Solar EDF Energy (UK) Photovoltaic 100 930 ac. No

Operating since 2018

Farm Palen Solar Power Solar Millennium/ Parabolic trough 484 3,075 ac. (5,176) No

Approved in 2017, under

Project Chevron Energy development

McCoy Solar Energy Next Era Energy Photovoltaic 750 7,700 ac. No Operating since 2015

Project Resources

Lucerne Valley Solar Chevron Energy Photovol raic 45 516 ac. No Fast-tracked, approved, but never Solutions constructed

Stateline Solar Farm First Solar Develop- Photovoltaic 300 2,000 ac. No Operating since 2015 ment

Ridgecrest Solar Power Solar Millennium Parabolic trough 250 3,920 ac. No Proposed but withdrawn Project

Rio Mesa Solar BrightSource Power rower 750 unknown No Proposed but withdrawn Electric Facility Energy

SOURCE: Bureau of Land Management (2012a, 2012b).

NOTE: There were an additional live fast-tracked projects sited on private land which have applied to run transmission lines and/or access roads across public lands, totaling 1,126 MW and crossing 425 acres of public lands. Data compiled from various BLM sources.

'Status as of March, 2015. "Approved" means that the project is ready to begin construction; "in permitting," that a draft EIS is being prepared; "proposed," that a notice of intent has been filed but nothing more.

'Solar Millennium is in insolvency proceedings. The project was sold to German developer Solar Hybrid, which intends to use First Solar PV modules. The project was halted because of a possible prehistoric Native American settlement. The site was approved again for a new developer in 2015.

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but have more rapid rates of recovery. These impacts are very geo- graphically specific and need to be understood on a case-by-case basis before drawing conclusions about environmental impacts. The BLM solar development policy came under scrutiny by environmental organ- izations because it lacked sensitivity to habitat, cultural resources, and land-use suitability beyond some general information about solar inso- lation, slope, and distance to electricity transmission infrastructure.



Researchers of socio-technical change find that the public is a political. actor that can shape the outcomes of infrastructure projects, and thus technological transitions more generally.48 Research on social resistance to renewable energy facilities is beginning to identify frictions and means to lessen controversies or mitigate impacts.49 USSE projects are far less represented in this literature, owing in part to their low profile and visibility in most places. A key concept used in the study of social resistance to renewable energy facilities is the "social gap" in renewable energy-strong, consistent support in general for renewables alongside local resistance to specific projects. Surveys routinely show the Ameri- can Southwest to be overwhelmingly in support of the growth of USSE. 50

Yet, numerous renewable energy projects throughout the region have faced stiff social opposition.

One of four explanations offered for persistence of the social gap-the "democratic deficit" hypothesis-suggests that local stakeholders oppose projects because they are far removed from the decision-making locus.51

Project developers often take a "decide-announce-defend" approach, where they show up having already completed the project financing and other key steps and then go through a process of environmental review. These are more likely to find local resistance. Processes that are perceived as undemocratic can elicit negative attitudes irrespective of other attributes. Community groups, organizations, and citizens resist local developments because of inadequate public participation. The developer-led or top- down approach is one source of conflict in siting issues because it lacks a credible means for public participation. Public involvement in project design, planning, and siting efforts reduced frictions over development when divergent views on a proposed rural wind farm development were collected and incorporated into decision-making.52 An extensive literature suggests that the kinds of public participation used in NEPA public com-

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rnent processes are insufficient for effective controversy extenuation.P The National Research Council, at the urging of the Environmental Protection Agency, DOE, and other federal agencies, convened an expert panel to assess whether and under what conditions public participation achieves the desired outcomes.54 Despite these recommendations, public participa- tion was complicated by the need to fast-track USSE projects to access stimulus funds for cash grants and loan guarantees. Instead of the two-to- three-year review process, environmental impact statement (EIS) proc- esses were expedited to eight to twelve months by the invocation of the fast-tracking executive order.

A second explanation-the "qualified support" hypothesis-suggests that when people offer support for renewables, they do so with qualifi- cations. They support renewables, but not without knowing some par- ticulars about the project in question.55 Actual support for renewable energy is typically qualified in ways that elude surveys of social atti- tudes. Such qualifications might include ecological and community impacts, although this information may be difficult to ascertain without detailed personal interviews, and such arguments could be raised for self-interested factors. Previous research on wind farm controversies at San Gorgonio Pass, near Palm Springs, California, suggests that opposi- tion to wind farms decreases over time, with qualifications including support for local economic benefits such as job creation and expanding the local tax base.56 There is also evidence for reduced community fric- tion when benefits are realized, such as increased economic activity and tax abatements.57

Third, socio-political acceptance also often hinges on the insider-out- sider frame. Framing solar energy developers as "big solar" evokes the tendencies of capitalist companies to act like the very powerful "big banks and "big oil." "Big wind" positions developers as outsiders not sensitive to local concerns. 58

Finally, in self-interest explanations, opposition stems from a project's impact on an individual's interests, property, or otherwise. This last explanation is encapsulated by the acronym NIMBY, for "not in my backyard." But scholarship on the social gap in renewable energy deployment shows that NIMBY-based explanations are by and large unsatisfactory here. 59 "The [NIMBY] syndrome really exists, but ... we must conclude that its significance remains very limited. "60 NIMBY explanations fail to account for the complex motivations of various stakeholders and the role of political, cultural, and institutional factors that better explain social resistance.61 This logic contends that it is at

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root a collective-action problem: even if they support renewables, indi- viduals may have no incentive to support local projects because they can free-ride on renewable energy developments elsewhere. But if NIMBYism is more complex and local opposition more nuanced than a collective carbon free-rider problem, what explains the social resistance to local projects?

One challenge to NIMBY explanations in the California deserts is that very few people actually have backyards there. Local residents were represented in public comments submitted on projects, but outside organizations were also well represented. Labor unions bussed out the rank and file to advocate projects, and environmental organizations sent people to oppose them. As public lands, they are a shared resource that benefits the public in general. But public lands and renewables would also be fed into the politics of federal land management, which has been an object of political mobilization for over 100 years-the contemporary period starting with the Sagebrush Rebellion. Without understanding the cross-section of federal land politics, one might miss this important factor shaping public attitudes to solar siting.

Aside from findings that emphasize the need for participation and stakeholder engagement, some research suggests that the social gap is best explained by how a project fits into its regional context. Early research on opposition to renewable energy projects in the California desert suggested that wind energy landscapes were the most conten- tious.f With the rapid acceleration of wind developments associated with the new markets for renewable energy, opposition to siting wind turbines is still an important part of the politics of the American West.63

But as the costs of solar energy technologies fall, conflicts are rapidly growing. Key reasons for this include the intensive land use of solar facilities compared to wind turbines, which have a smaller direct foot- print on the land. In addition, solar energy facilities have by and large relied on public lands, while wind energy developments are sited on both public and private lands. Use of public lands arouses public opposition, first because there are more opportunities to comment on projects, so negative representations have a visible public platform. The federal nexus here also made projects easier to oppose because there were more legal opportunities to intervene.

Some researchers posit that local resistance to renewable energy is due to a failure of local groups to recognize the imperative of climate change. Sound social science can help overcome barriers and obstacles to renewable energy development.64 A lack of familiarity with renewa-

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ble energy facilities may be at the core of the problem, which would suggest educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy and how it works, though this contradicts the claims about the benefits of collaboration and participation &om other research.65 Research on opposition to renewable energy projects has found that many oppo- nents are articulate and well reasoned.66 It may be a firmly held psycho- logical idea that makes groups hold on to the local in the face of a glo- bal, distant problem like climate change.67

Public referenda and collaborative planning may help fill the social gap, as poor communication and mistrust are primary points of conflict in opposition to renewable energy.68 Incorporating local knowledge, experiential learning, and access to information into project proposals could reduce social opposition.69 Visual simulations of impacts may offer opportunities to mediate conflicts. Redistributing benefits and providing a sense of ownership to community members have also been shown to reduce social-gap frictions; community involvement reduces resistance to projects compared to communities where there was no community involvernent.?? Tolerance maps and decision support systems may help minimize conflicts where resolving aesthetic issues could help resolve such controversies. Public involvement in planning can foster a more collaborative spirit around wind farm proposals, suggesting possibilities for community collaboration to find acceptable outcomes even if the sides are not in agreement with the final results entirely; such processes are key to satisfying "wind justice."71 Where opponents base their judg- ments on a sense of landscape justice, a process that respects multiple landscape valuations may help ensure equitable and fair outcomes."


With the announcement of the BLM solar development program, desert conservation groups immediately began to question the conservation implications of fast-tracked USSE projects. Some believed that solar developers were receiving a "green halo" for projects that otherwise would be criticized for their ecological impacts and even attract lawsuits or other legal interventions.73 Most organizations were unequivocal that the siting of many proposed solar developments was at odds with habi- tat and species conservation, and even climate mitigations for wildlife. Fast-tracking allowed too little time for review and would compromise sound scientific judgment by preventing robust, science-based impact

I 3 2 I Green Civil War

assessments. Basin and Range Watch, one of the sentinels observing solar developments in the American West, remarked on its blog, below an image of ten large Caterpillar scrapers preparing land for a solar project, "Can't we slow down a little and put together a coherent energy policy?"74

The Wildlands Conservancy is an environmental organization that raises support to purchase lands of conservation significance and donates them to land management organizations. Its executive director, David Myers, was near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego, when he first heard about the proposed solar projects in the California deserts. Myers read in the San Diego Union-Tribune that a startup com- pany named Stirling Energy had requested that the California Energy Commission expedite the environmental impact review of the proposed Imperial Valley solar project near Plaster City, California, south of the Salton Sea and about ten miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.75 The developers had asked that a review process that usually takes two years be reduced to ninery days.76

Complicating matters for the fast-tracked environmental review request for the Imperial Valley solar project were roughly 5,000 flat-tail horned lizards (Phrynosoma meal/ii). If development occurred, these rep- tiles would need to be transferred off-site to mitigation lands. The flat-tail horned lizard was under consideration for listing under the California Endangered Species Act.77 Designing that element of the project planning alone would take considerable time and money. Meyers said,

They wanted to shorten the review period for their environmental impact statement, but ... they had to relocate 5,000 flat-tailed horned lizards from their site, which is a candidate for a federally endangered species ... and here you have a technology that has never been proven on a large scale. They [solar developers] say they are going to have to get their power engines made on an automobile assembly line to get their costs down 90%. But here you have the U.S. government offering them a 30% grant; and on top of that 30% to cover the cost of the project, they are offering them another 50% in a guar- anteed loan for an unproven technology, for a foreign company where all the profits are gonna go outside of the United States ... where we have PV like First Solar coming down to a dollar a watt. There is just no way Stirling can compete with PV, except for in the venue of lobbying congressmen and lob- bying this administration to give them low-interest loans and 30% grants for their projects. That's what is most frustrating for us. The administration, in its haste, not unlike its haste with offshore oil drilling ... the biggest thing is, he [Interior Secretary Salazar] has no experience. And that's what we are see- ing. Ken Salazar, with no experience in energy, just opening up the California desert for companies on a first-come, first-served basis. With no competing

Green Civil War I I33

bids for who has the best technology, who has the proven technology, who is actually going to be able to meet their power purchase agreement, who is capitalized, who is speculating. I mean this is just a free-for-all, and it's terri- bly naive to think we are going to have anything less than a lot of dead dino- saurs that have destroyed 6,000 acres of land here and there, scattered throughout the California desert, when all is said and done.78

Meyers spoke highly of solar in general, proudly mentioning a home he had built with ARCO M70 photovoltaic modules in 1984; the modules stiJl operate at a high output (ARCO's legacy is currently SolarWorld). He also pointed to a trend where the industry and government seemed to be favoring a solar deployment strategy based on utility-scale solar and wind farms connected through expanded and new transmission corri- dors. He pointed to projects by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and projects that cut through two desert wilderness reserves. "Governments shouldn't be picking sites," he said.79 The Imperial Valley solar project would be connected to metropolitan San Diego through the Sunrise Powerlink, a high-voltage transmission line connecting wind, solar, geothermal, and natural gas power plants in tbe Imperial Valley westward, over the mountains. The proposed transmission line was mentioned numerous times in public comments on many of the first wave of USSE applications on public lands in the Colorado Desert.

Myers pointed out that there was no evidence that the Stirling-engine technology could be cost-effective. A Stirling engine is an external com- bustion engine that absorbs solar thermal energy to create temperature differences inside a piston chamber; the moving piston spins a genera- tor, creating electricity. The environmental controversy around the Imperial Valley solar project was a harbinger of things to come. No Stirling-engine technology would be proposed over the next ten years as the costs of photovoltaics fell and concentrated solar power (CSP) fell into disfavor among investors.

The spark for this environmental flareup came with solar develop- ments proposed for the Catellus lands in southeastern California, along a lonely stretch of the iconic route 66, near Pisgah Crater, at the center of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Desert is in southeastern California and southern Nevada, bounded by the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin to the north, the Tehachapi Mountains to the west, and to the south by Mount Baldy and where Joshua Tree National Park drops down to a lower elevation, where it transitions to the Colorado Desert. Other scientists suggest that it and other deserts of the American Southwest will be impacted by climate change more than any other place

134 I Green Civil War Green Civil War I 135

in North America south of the Arctic." The Mojave Desert is considered one of the most ecologically intact high desert ecosystem in the world, with 86% of the area documented as having high conservation value." At the same time, it sits on the edge of California's largest population center, which is ripe for renewable energy development. The "desert scrub" term used by some to describe the Mojave Desert ecosystem actually represents several community types, including creosote bush scrub, saltbush scrub, shadscale scrub, blackbush scrub, and Joshua Tree woodland. Some- where on the order of 80-90% of species in the Mojave are endemic, so the region has unique flora and fauna. The Mojave Desert has faced numerous ecological challenges from westward expansion and particu- larly the development of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The major stressors on the Mojave Desert include urbanization, intensive livestock grazing, off-road vehicle recreation, road construction, military operations, inva- sive species, and mining. These same lands now face pressure from USSE proposals. The desert has a tremendous diversity of geological features, but also reveals two centuries of extractive industries.

After learning of the Imperial Valley solar project, Myers and April Sall, also of the Wildlands Conservancy, received word that several new projects were being proposed on the Catellus lands. The Catellus lands are 600,000 acres of former railroad land purchased by the Wildlands Conservancy and donated to the BLM for long-term conservation. The lands were a legacy of the 1864 Homestead Act. The Catellus Development Corporation is the real estate arm of the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation. The Catellus lands are scenic lands with interesting geologic formations-basin and range, cinder cones and lava flows- and viewsheds that offer views from horizon to horizon. They were also oddly configured, owing to their Homestead Act origins, which granted the railroad every other parcel in a z.o-mile wide checkerboard of one square mile blocks for fifty miles from the Colorado River west to Barstow, California. The rest were public land, managed by the BLM.

Starting in the 1980s and carrying through to the 1990s, the Wild- lands Conservancy raised $45 million in private and $18 million in fed- eral support to protect 600,000 acres of desert wilderness around Joshua Tree National Park. In 1999, the conservancy completed the largest land acquisition ever donated to the federal government. The Southern California NGO purchased 587,000 acres of Catellus land and donated these parcels to the BLM and the National Park Service; the latter were added to Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave

National Preserve in 1999 during the William Clinton administration. Railroad explorers in the 18 5 os knew the first rail line through the Mojave as the 3 yth Parallel Route. If chosen as the first transcontinental railroad route, it could have rewritten the history of the west coast of North America. Union Pacific's eventual route would spawn the Mojave Desert towns of Kelso, Cima, and Nipton.

Wilderness organizations claimed that the public lands were under assault. Solar power plant proposals were popping up everywhere. Envi- ronmental groups chastised the BLM for processing permits to solar developers without adequately knowing the conservation status of par- ticular parcels. One company proposed a 19,000-acre solar farm, nearly roo times larger than any existing solar generation facility. Anthem Solar proposed a project of ro,ooo acres. Sall noted 19 projects inside an area that was proposed in 2008 to become two national monuments with the help of Feinstein. President Obama used the Antiquities Act in 2016 to proclaim the monument designations. The 94,roo-acre Mojave Trails National Monument now connects Joshua Tree and the Mojave Preserve units of the National Park Service, while the 134,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument connects the highest peaks of the Califor- nia desert to dry lakes and basins.

The most controversial of the Catellus projects was a 5,130-acre CSP tower project proposed by BrightSource Energy for Broadwell Dry Lake, in Sleeping Beauty Valley (Figure 8). Located outside the western edge of the Mojave National Preserve and adjacent to the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area, a bit north of Ludlow (and near the Calico Project mentioned earlier), it is one of the most remote USSE projects ever pro- posed in the California desert. The area is populated by bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis).

BrightSource was a venture-capital startup based in Oakland, Cali- fornia, and owned by BrightSource Industries Israel. BrightSource's heliostat and power tower design was the brainchild of Arnold Gold- man, an experienced solar power plant designer who had completed a smaller prototype in the Negev Desert in Israel in 2008. He received the 2009 World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneers Award. Goldman, BrightSource's founder, also founded Luz International, a developer that built nine solar energy generation systems near Barstow, Califor- nia, in the 1980s, but was bankrupt by 1991. Goldman had a particular utopian idea for solar energy development, with energy systems sur- rounded by communities, culminating in a mythical city he called Luz, where angels climb a ladder to heaven.82


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FIGURE 8. Numerous solar projects were proposed for the Sleeping Beauty Wilderness, which is now part of Mojave Trails National Monument.

With solar developments threatening to undermine the promised con- servation of these ecosystems, the Wildlands Conservancy voiced con- cern about a breach of trust with the BLM. With the support of David Gelbaum, the conservancy's largest donor, a clean-tech investor and ven- ture capitalist and a personal friend of California senator Diane Fein- stein, a plan to block the solar development were set into motion. The plan would establish two new national monuments via federal legislation. All told, BrightSource filed 19 proposals for CSP towers on public lands, and complained about the proposed monuments. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose venture capital firm, VantagePoint Capital Partners, was heavily invested in BrightSource, was quoted in the New York Times chastising the senator. "This is arguably the best solar land in the world," he said, "and Senator Feinstein shouldn't be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review."83 At the time of the conflict between BrightSource and Wildlands, this firm was the only visible member of the group of investors that would invest in BrightSource. Kennedy continued, "I respect the belief that it's all local. But they're putting the democratic process and sound scientific judgment on hold to jeopardize the energy future of our country .... Harnessing the sun's energy will be paramount to addressing climate change and protecting our natural heritage. Proven and cost-effective technologies

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like BrightSource Energy's solar thermal systems exist today and are ready to be implemented. The time to act is now. "84

By now BrightSource was receiving negative press from popular ven- ues such as Forbes, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Environmental groups asked the developers to consider more appropri- ate sites. In a press release, NRDC senior attorney Johanna Wald clari- fied that they had "tried very hard to avoid litigation and filed this suit as the last resort. We have focused instead on consensus building to improve as many large-scale solar projects as possible to transition our nation to clean energy sources while protecting wild lands and wild- life. "85 The courts disagreed, and the Calico project was eventually approved. But by 2013, K Road had withdrawn its application for the site and sold off its development pipeline.

Ironically, Kennedy four years earlier had penned an op-ed opposing the Cape Wind project off Nantucket Sound. "As an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project. "86 The proposed wind turbines would have stood less than ro miles from the Kennedy family compound. One activist quipped, "BrightSource [is pursuing] the worst projects in the worst locations, but they have the best PR firm, because Robert Kennedy is involved."87 The activist was referring to the fact that Kennedy is an outspoken environmentalist and his opinion carries weight in the envi- ronmental community.

Shortly after the public flare-up in 2008, BrightSource withdrew its application. All told, six companies would withdraw their applications, and thirteen more would have been blocked by the proposed national monuments. Other companies, such as Congentrix Energy, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, also canceled their projects. Congentrix's vice presi- dent said, "When we attended the onsite desert meeting with Senator Feinstein, it was clear she was very serious about this. "88 Buried deep in the legislation were rules authorizing the BLM to expedite USSE projects outside the monument area, while protecting the lands contained by the monuments. The projects proposed for Catellus lands were removed, including the controversial Calico project and the BrightSource project. One-third of the Calico project area overlapped with the range of the

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entire species of white-margined penstemon, a plant the California Native Plant Society is petitioning to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (plants are notoriously difficult to get listed).89

There remained salient questions about the effectiveness of the BLM's approach. Sall noted, "I have to say I think that the BLM process is a broken process-it's geared for conflict. "90 The Catellus lands would later be included in the boundaries of two new national monuments in California, initially proposed by Feinstein in 2008 and added by Presi- dent Obama via the Antiquities Act in 2016. The lands received perma- nent protection from solar development in a planning process that led to the Western Solar Plan.91 Some of these public lands eventually would become the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments.


Fast-tracking hastened solar deployment but also exacerbated some environmental justice tensions. Across the American West there is evi- dence of past peoples and civilizations. The Fort Mohave, Chemehuevi, and Quechan are just some of the Colorado River tribes that expect prior consultation from developers and the BLM, and failing to do so could lead to costly legal actions or project delays. The public lands where solar development is focused must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. Early projects approved by the BLM were a model of how not to consult with tribes (cursory consultation, failing to keep tribal leaders informed), and the BLM has revised its practices of consultation considerably since 2010. Figure 9 shows utility-scale solar projects across the American Southwest.

Several Colorado River Native American tribes consider this region a sacred ancestral home. Numerous lawsuits from 2010 to 2012 claim that the BLM failed to adequately consult tribes on cultural resource issues, raising a question of procedural justice. The La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle filed suit against six solar power plants on BLM lands shortly after the interior secretary approved them. The suits claimed that the BLM did not take this and other Native American con- cerns into account when evaluating the impacts of fast-track projects. The Indian tribes spoke of a long history of Europeans exploiting and unfairly displacing tribes. Arrow-weed admonished, "They seem to want to do it at the price of destroying history .... It's an assault. They've already wiped out a lot of things and now they want to wipe out the desert and any evidence of our past. "92

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140 I G reen Civil War

FIGURE 10. Geoglyph in desert pavement near the Blythe Solar Power Project.

At one site, tribes argued that a project would harm the fringe-toed lizard, a species that is central to their creation story.93 Harm to these organisms was seen as damage to Quechan culture. Another project, the Genesis Solar Project, was temporarily halted after the discovery of human remains in a suspected prehistoric cremation site.94 A third project damaged several geoglyphs near Blythe, California (Figure 10).

The cultural resources found in the lower Colorado River Valley, which spans Arizona and California, contain unique features known as geoglyphs or intaglios, which are sixty to one-hundred-foot figures depict- ing humans, animals, and spirits. They were made one to three thousand years ago by Native Americans, by turning over dark stones so that their lighter bottom sides are visible, and were not rediscovered until the advent of airplanes. They form part of the spiritual basis for the religion of the

Green Civil War I 141


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1 1 c URE Ir. Alfredo Acosta Figueroa, who once worked to organize farmworkers with Cesar ( .havez, led efforts by tribes to increase scrutiny of solar projects slated for public lands.

Colorado River tribes." According to Native American elder Alfredo Figueroa (Figure n), developers bulldozed a geoglyph of Kokopilli (a deity of fertility that looks like a flute player with wild hair) and a sun geoglyph on public lands shortly they went bankrupt, leaving the spot vacant until construction commenced on a solar farm in 2014. These geoglyphs are made of desert pavement-small pebbles firmly settled atop desert soils-and tribes call them sacred places, according to film- maker Robert Lundahl, who made a documentary on the conflict. Else- where, clear patterns of anthropogenic origin scattered across the region in the form of giant intaglios, figures tens of meters across, can be seen in the desert pavement. Many intaglios are thought to be up to 10,000 years old. Native Americans have occupied this region for thousands of years, and it is believed to have been an important area for settlement by the ancestors of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan civilizations, as humans migrated across the Bering Strait and toward Central and South America.

My interview with the Chemehuevi Indian leader began in his living room, where he pointed to the answering machine. Under a memorandum


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of understanding between tribes and the BLM, tribes are supposed to have a prior consultation. He noted that the BLM office that was required to seek his input did not leave a voice message. Alfredo contended that a call leaving no voice message did not constitute an effort to seek prior input. Figueroa is a historian by training and organized the La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, which seeks to protect lands along the Colorado River for their spiritual significance. Aztlan is the mythical place of origin in the creation story of many tribes in the Americas, and Figueroa points to evidence that the lower Colorado River region is the birthplace of the Aztec and Mayan systems of belief.

The tribes also maintained that there are significant gravesites in the project areas of some of the developments. Alfredo Acosta Figueroa is a long-time social justice activist. Great-grandfather Figueroa is Cherne- huevi Indian (a branch of the Southern Piute, based near Lake Havasu on the Colorado River) and a longtime resident of Blythe, California, which was the epicenter of solar development in the state in terms of total acreage. In an interview in z.or r , Figueroa showed pictures of his work with Cesar Chavez organizing farmworkers in the 1960s and r97os. He marched alongside Chavez with farmworkers, and worked to block nuclear waste dumps in the 1980s. More recently, he turned his organizing toward the damage being done to cultural resources in the Colorado River Valley as a founding member of La Cuna, but also a member of Californians for Renewable Energy. He opposed several solar projects that threatened cultural resources, but also led campaigns against natural gas peaker plants and the proposed (but never built) Sundesert Nuclear Power Plant, and today was pointing to intaglios that had been destroyed at a nearby site called the Blythe solar power plant, originally under development by Solar Millennium (a company based in Cologne, Germany) before it declared bankruptcy in 201 r.

During a visit to the site of the Blythe project site, Figueroa and his two grandchildren spoke of the importance of the horned toad and the desert tortoise." He noted that "the tortoise is at the center of the Aztec sunstone calendar. ... This represents more of the creation story than any other relic. "97 Figueroa made reference numerous times to the role that Western peoples have long played in exterminating the cosmic tradition of Native American communities and the sacred nature of desert wilderness for Uto- Aztecan language speakers. To Figueroa, solar energy development in the desert wilderness is "antithetical to the sacred sites' purpose and appears to be intended to essentially trap the Creator Quetzalcoatl as the deity

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descends at sundown. "98 This theme of the continued genocide of Native Americans by Western culture was echoed in public comments submitted to several other renewable energy projects, including Ivanpah, the Palen Solar Project, the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility, the Panoche Valley Solar Project, and the Genesis Solar Energy Project.

During my interview with Figueroa, standing at the foot of the McCoy Mountains, he pointed toward the Palen Mountains and noted that the ancient watering hole near the site almost certainly bore the remains of his ancestors, as they would frequently convene and reside near water sources in this arid stretch that connects the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean. After climbing a hill to an overlook viewing the neighboring val- leys, where the McCoy, Genesis, and Palen USSE projects were planned, Figueroa noted the sacred importance of historic trails. Chemehuevi means "people who play with fish" in Mojave, and the name seems ironic until one considers the plentiful fish in the Colorado River flowing out to the Pacific Ocean, places that were connected by Native American trails, some of which are officially registered as national historic trails. "Our people lived near springs along the trail; our ancestors are buried there," he said.99 There are numerous other historic trails passing through many of these sites, including those used as supply points for early settlers and overland stage routes that were part of the great western migration.

In 2009, a subsidiary of Next Era Energy Resources proposed build- ing a parabolic trough solar power plant in the Colorado Desert, close to the Colorado River boundary near Blythe, California, on Ford Dry Lake. The $1 billion Genesis Solar Energy Project would generate 250 MW of power on BLM lands. While the project was much heralded for its low-carbon electricity, after being approved, it was almost immedi- ately embroiled in controversy.

Early in the public review process, Native American elders warned that the plant was sited near a desert watering hole along an ancient trail connecting the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean. There were concerns raised about the cultural resources of Native American tribes. The project is near Ford Dry Lake, which is widely held by several Native American tribes to be a significant cultural heritage site and important ecological site for a reptile of special spiritual significance.

The next year, in zo r r , at the site for the Genesis solar power project site Figueroa referred to, grinding stones and a layer of charcoal believed by Colorado River tribes to be an ancient cremation site were uncovered

I44 I G reen C ivil War

during construction, resulting in a lengthy delay. The tribes demanded that 80 hectares be taken out of the proposed development. One tribal elder was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that the project "disrupted the peace of our ancestors and our relationship with the land. There is no mitigation for such a loss. "100 The special place of Native Americans in the socio-ecology of North America warrants their influ- ence on the direction of socio-ecological change as society determines the pathways for responding to global climate change. These considerations extend beyond the deserts of the American West, as lands rich in solar resources are facing pressures across the arid parts of the world, includ- ing dispossession and socio-ecological change. 101

The tribes justly claim that there was no prior consultation with them on the site, a requirement for public lands through a special arrangement with the U.S. government. Figueroa spoke specifically of the problematic nature of the fast-track process, noting that the land was taken from them when their numbers were small, over a century ago. He believes that much of the land belonged to the tribes as reservation land until it came under federal control and the reservation size was reduced. Figueroa claims that the BLM only called once and did not leave a mes- sage, abrogating its responsibility, something the BLM denies.

David Myers and April Sall, the two leaders of the Wildlands Con- servancy, expressed notable disdain for the big environmental NGOs, like the Sierra Club, NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, and Wilderness Soci- ety. They suggested that these organizations were prioritizing renewable energy development as a climate change imperative no matter how much development might harm biodiversity. "We got dragged into this because the big groups were standing on the sidelines and we were watching this big conservation legacy practically go under a bulldozer," said Sall, the organization's conservation director. "We said, 'we can't be silent any- more.' The Sierra Club and the NRDC-their mission is to work on climate change above all else," Sall said. "We refuse to compromise on that level. "102 Even the Sierra Club remained split at local and national levels. At a 2007 meeting of the Sierra Club's California/Nevada Desert Committee, a senior representative of the national organization said that local concerns about siting were less important than getting projects implemented and developed quickly.

Projects on public lands faced stiff social resistance, through litiga- tion or public protest. At the same time, a number of ARRA-supported projects were being developed on private lands and facing much less

Green Civil War I 14 5

scrutiny. The Agua Caliente Solar Farm in Arizona, built by First Solar, received no visible public opposition because the private land had been used for conventional agriculture. The private lands that did receive scrutiny were usually those in easements for conservation or grazing, so from an ecological perspective they were similar to the public lands offered by BLM. Though not explicitly public lands, lands in easement receive some pubic support through property tax breaks.


BrightSource withdrew its Sleeping Beauty Valley project on the Catellus lands in 2009. The spotlight quickly shifted to another BrightSource project that was advancing toward approval. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Stations were the subject of evidentiary hearings before the California Energy Commission, the state agency that permits the siting of thermal power plants, including CSP-photovoltaic solar farms do not need permits from the commission. BrightSource proposed to build three CSP towers, with 173,500 computer-controlled heliostats directed to deliver solar energy to boilers (preheated with natural gas) to make steam to drive a turbine to generate electricity.l'" For the proposed 400 MW Solar Electric Generating Stations, BrightSource Energy requested a per- mit for 4,055 acres (about six square miles) of public lands, which would require translocation of hundreds of desert tortoises, a federally protected and threated species (Figure 12). This ancient species of the Mojave evolved when the region was more tropical. The desert tortoise can live over a hundred years and can tolerate extreme temperatures and drought.

The Ivanpah Valley is on the California side of the California-Nevada border in the eastern Mojave Desert. Most travelers find themselves here en route to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, as Interstate I 5 runs through the valley parallel to lvanpah Dry Lake and the Union Pacific rail line. Imagine a long valley split by an interstate highway and a parallel rail line, with a dry lake at the low point of the valley. Two towns stand thirty miles apart at opposite ends of the valley, which is bounded by the New York Mountains to the south, Clark Mountain and the Ivan- pah Mountains to the west, the Spring Range to the north, and the McCollough Mountains to the east. To the north, Primm, Nevada, is a town that resembles a rest stop, with a thousand people, about the total capacity of the town's three hotels. The unique desert town has a small


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FIGURE 12. Agassiz's desert tortoise is a threatened species in the California Desert.

amusement park, with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, casinos, and shop- ping outlets connected by a monorail. Every square foot of the town, up to the boundary with public lands, is developed; Primm's parking lots extend to within an inch of the California-Nevada border.

Nipton, California, is much smaller, with a population of 60. Settled as a nineteenth-century Southern Pacific railway stop, the town now sits on the northern edge of the Mojave National Preserve, with a bar, cafe, trailer park, motel, and general store scattered among a handful of resi- dences. The towns themselves are developed to different degrees, Primm nearly a square mile of urban space and pavement and Nipton resem- bling a square miJe of rural ghost town. In the landscape of the Ivanpah Valley, the towns barely occupy any land at all. More than 80% of the valley is considered "ecologically core" or "ecologically intact" habitat by the Nature Conservancy, based on a regional assessment of the Mojave Desert in 2008 in preparation for renewables development in California's deserts.'?' The remaining expanse of the lvanpah Valley is 200 square miles of

Mojave Desert open space covered in creosote bush scrub, old-growth barrel cacti, and Mojave yucca trees and containing the desert tortoise and the rare white-margined penstemon flower. There is a natural gas power plant looming in the distance above Primm, near a cement fac- tory, and a 36-hole golf course sits at the bottom of the valley, near the

Green Civil War I 147

dry lake. The southern portion of lvanpah Valley is protected in the Mojave National Preserve, and a portion of the valley on the California side has been designated critical habitat for the desert tortoise by the USFWS. Though the BLM lands proposed for solar development here did not have any special protections, the landscape is considered wild enough to be a popular place for researchers to study the behavior of wild populations of desert tortoise and collect rare plants. 105 The valley has seen its fair share of other kinds of development proposals; an inter- national airport for Las Vegas was proposed but later withdrawn in the 2000s, and there have been numerous proposals for high-speed rail to connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

The lvanpah Valley's future as an industrial solar zone would be sealed with the announcement of BrightSource's project. On paper, the lvanpah Solar Electric Generating Stations consisted of four limited- liability corporations, Solar Partners r, 2, 4, and 8. In the public eye, the company was BrightSource Energy, a venture capital startup backed by Silicon Valley and clean-tech investors and angels, including environ- mentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. BrightSource was already a controversial name in the environmental community because of the controversy at Sleeping Beauty Valley with the Wildlands Conservancy.

BrightSource's investors at lvanpah were revealed to be Chevron, Google, CalPERS, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, BP, Morgan Stanley, and VantagePoint Capital Partners, which collectively raised $615 million in private capital, mostly from NRG, a Princeton, New Jersey-based electricity generator and owner of many merchant power plants, which are power plants that sell electricity to utilities in electricity markets. For Google it was its flagship investment in RE<C- its low-carbon technology initiative, an effort to make renewable energy (RE) cheaper than(<) coal (C). BrightSource and its partners borrowed another $r.6 billion from the DOE loan guarantee program with money from Treasury's Federal Financing Bank, the conduit for ARRA. Once complete, the energy conglomerate NRG would own and operate the Sz.a-billion solar power towers. Two California investor-owned utili- ties agreed to purchase lvanpah's electricity at around $0.12 per kilo- watt-hour to comply with state RPSs: Pacific Gas and Electric, serving central and northern California, and Southern California Edison, serv- ing further south. Bechtel led the construction project. It was no stranger to building energy projects in economic hard times, having constructed nearby Hoover Dam during the Great Depression with the labor of the Industrial Workers of the World. Bechtel's strength as a renowned

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global engineering firm no doubt assuaged some of the worries of the private investment community and likely influenced the financial met- rics that awarded them the federal loan guarantee.

Constructing lvanpah led to the translocation of over 150 desert tor- toises. They epitomize the vulnerability of species experiencing severe decline, as they are considered the most likely of higher-order animals to face extinction in the next century.!" The desert tortoise has experienced increasing cumulative impacts range-wide, such that the Desert Tortoise Council has recommended uplisting the species from federally threat- ened to endangered. The species is already one of the top recipients of federal spending for an endangered or threatened species. U.S. state and federal agencies spent $9 3 million on conservation for this desert reptile from 1996 to 2006, more than for the gray wolf, grizzly bear, or bald eagle.t'" After a century of habitat transformation and disturbance, the desert tortoises now face the twin pressures of climate change and land- use changes.!" The subpopulation west of the Colorado River was feder- ally listed as threatened in 1990, having lost 90% of its population over the previous fifty years. 109 Land-use change and habitat loss is the pri- mary threat to desert tortoise survival and remains the primary driver of extirpation of some genetic subpopulations. Healthy genetic subpopula- tions and gene flow between them may be critical to the species's resil- ience and survival. One biologist interviewed for this research noted that "the genetic diversity of the desert tortoise is important to maintain for species health; these power plants could impede gene flow."110 Species like the tortoise require modest levels of gene flow to prevent genetic problems associated with inbreeding and susceptibility to disease. Through direct individual loss and by posing obstacles to gene flow, USSE could further erode biodiversity in the Eastern Mojave. Land man- agers play a critical role in desert tortoise protection, as 80% of the desert tortoise population is found on public lands.111

The lvanpah project was described many times by Obama and his cabinet in political speeches on climate change and economic recovery. Obama enthusiastically described the project in 2010 in one of his weekly Saturday morning addresses. The project created 1,000 jobs during construction, and 86 permanent jobs, with an agreement with local unions.

This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It's going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And

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when it's complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes-the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.!'!

President Obama continued to describe how the loan guarantee would facilitate research and development in BrightSource's home of Oakland. It was touted as a job-generating innovation-the Sputnik moment needed to revitalize national economic competitiveness. Yet the high- tech jobs and the patents for this technology are in Israel, not Oakland. Key hardware would be sourced more locally. A company based in Ari- zona would provide the steel for the heliostats. The gearboxes that allow heliostats to track the sun were made by Cone Drive Gearing Solutions a subsidiary of defense contractor David Brown Group.U! The same technology used to point munitions at people could target heliostats at the sun. This collection of large corporations, unions, and major investors yielded significant political power in pushing the project forward. Even Kennedy's brother-in-law and renewable energy advo- cate California governor Schwarzenegger asked Obama and Salazar in a letter to fast-track Ivanpah.'!"

A small wilderness advocacy group, Basin and Range Watch, was one of the earliest intervenors, bringing other groups to the site to make the case for an intervention. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife eventually intervened in the case, alongside citizens and local groups expressing concerns about the project's impact on a relatively large intact ecosystem connecting parts of the Mojave National Preserve. Public comments from environmental organizations raised questions about the impact the solar power towers would have on desert wildlife such as raptors and other avian wildlife, rare plants, and bighorn sheep. Most notably, envi- ronmental groups pointed out that the agency decision would be con- trary to the principles outlined in desert tortoise recovery plans. These plans emphasized the importance of connectivity and gene flow between tortoise subpopulations around the lvanpah Valley, which is within the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit, one of six evolutionarily signifi- cant populations of tortoise designated in the CDCA.115 The habitats are important to the desert tortoise, given other threats-mining, grazing, urbanization-and climate change is likely to shift the tortoise's habitat range as temperature and precipitation patterns change.116

A public comment from the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out the valley's importance to the BLM's bioregional planning efforts. It

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complained that "the lack of prior planning by BLM for siting of this proposed project and others could undermine the conservation goals of the COCA plan as a whole, [and] create a de facto industrial solar zone in the lvanpah Valley, undermining recovery of the desert tortoise in this area. "117 Environmental organizations expressed considerable sym- pathy for climate action, but pleaded for more appropriate sites for renewable energy development.

The possible conversion of the lvanpah Valley into an industrial solar zone prompted the Audubon Society to worry about impacts on migra- tory and raptor bird species.118 Solar flux directed at solar power towers was known to singe passing birds, and waterbirds might mistake the reflections, glare, or polarized light from the heliostats for a lake. The California Native Plant Society questioned the proposed mitigations for damage to the white-margined penstemon. "There are no known tech- niques to mitigate for the loss of rare plants and their habitat in desert environments," I was told. "Avoidance is the only mitigation that is appropriate."!" The director of the University of California's Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center called the Ivanpah Valley a "biological frontier" where several notable discoveries were recently made and said that little effort has gone into fully surveying and docu- menting the plant biodiversity of the Mojave Desert. These features give scientific credence for including the lvanpah Valley as an Area of Criti- cal Environmental Concern, a special BLM designation under FLPMA used when lands require special management considerations for eco- logical, cultural, or scenic resources. The designation was advanced by Basin and Range Watch.120

Despite the challenges to lvanpah by environmental organizations, the BLM proceeded to process the ROW permit. In preparation for a formal EIS, BrightSource hired biologists to survey the site for, among other species, the desert tortoise, which was known to spend 90% of its up to roo-year life in burrows. In this relatively dry year, biologists found only 17 tortoises on site in their surveys.F' This contradicted opponents' claims that the site was important tortoise habitat, evidence used in the USFWS's Biological Opinion in the review process, which advised that the tortoises be moved to mitigation sites.

When the BLM approved Ivanpah in 2010, no mainstream environ- mental organization took legal action to stop or influence the project. This was puzzling, given the attention that the project had attracted in popular venues such as Forbes, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. National environmental groups had a difficult time opposing renewable

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energy-any renewable energy, according to some wilderness advocates- because many large funders thought fighting climate change, at any cost, was more important. An "all-of-the-above" renewable energy policy has dominated mainstream environmental groups, without nuanced consid- eration of impacts on biodiversity and natural resources. This has only grown in recent years, with most NGOs taking a hands-off approach to opposing USSE projects, preferring to settle instead.122

Only the Western Watershed Project, a watchdog organization focused on "private abuses of public lands," filed a lawsuit, arguing that the USFWS had relied only on the project proponents' paid scientists for a "woefully underestimated" count of tortoises to be impacted.123 The organization argued that the BLM should not have approved the solar electric generating station because it had only assessed adult tortoises in the population. The case was eventually denied in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a federal judge's earlier ruling that sup- ported the project.P"

The tortoise count would dramatically rise as lvanpah's construction proceeded. As land clearing commenced in late 2010, BrightSource quickly exceeded the permit limit of 3 8 tortoises, triggering a second consultation with the USFWS and a temporary construction delay that threatened the loan guarantee.125 Since a respiratory disease carried by tortoises can be spread by handling them, the developers agreed that tortoises found on site would overwinter in seclusion pens in quarantine. Over 170 tortoises were kept and raised from 20n, and this will con- tinue until 2020.126 Tortoises were outfitted with radio-telemetry trans- mitters and evaluated for disease before being released onto adjacent lands when deemed healthy. Each tortoise would be tracked to assess survival rates from translocation. Tortoise translocations were already controversial in the region and face skepticism in the Mojave Desert because of earlier efforts to translocate nearly 770 tortoises for an expan- sion of nearby Fort Irwin. The project was suspended when nearly a hundred died within several weeks.!" In early zo r r, BLM scientists issued a report that BrightSource's lvanpah project would disturb 3,000 desert tortoises, with 700 juveniles killed from construction alone.128 Tortoise mitigations will cost BrightSource $56 million overall through 2020.129

By 2012, the financial viability of BrightSource seemed to be in ques- tion. The company found it difficult to get other proposed projects approved in the U.S. and abroad. The clean-tech investment community took note when BrightSource withdrew its $150 million dollar initial

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public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The mood on CSP technologies soured in the venture capital community. A successful Sili- con Valley clean-tech investor, Nancy Pfund, penned an op-ed, "Donuts, Renewable Energy and What They Say about America," declaring the comparably small investment in renewable energy, the very same week that Dunkin' Donuts raised nearly a billion dollars from Wall Street, a troubling sign.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a glazed cruller now and then. Bue at a time when climate change is wreaking havoc on weather patterns and wars are being fought over access to fossil fuels, why do doughnuts trump clean energy as an attractive place for investment? When nations all over the world are investing heavily in clean energy, why are American investors sitting on the sidelines? Last time I checked, while America may run on doughnuts, the rest of the planet runs increasingly on renewable resources. While China has made clean energy one of its strategic industries, we still are hoping we can drill our way to the future. 130

The next bad news for lvanpah was that the power plant was delivering less electricity than planned and using far more natural gas. BrightSource and the loan program received severe criticism when lvanpah was listed as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and had to participate in the cap-and-trade program.'!' In February 2017, the owner, NRG, announced the power plant was finally delivering the designed amount of solar electriciry.l+ One environmental attorney described Ivanpah as "just a boondoggle .... This isn't about solving an environ- mental problem or an economic problem. It's corporate welfare."133 Fig- ure 13 depicts the three solar power towers in the Ivanpah Valley.

The desert tortoise was only the first ecological conflict in the lvan- pah Valley. A USFWS staff biologist interviewed by the Associated Press described a raptor passing through the solar flux of BrightSource's power towers shortly after the power plant was commissioned on Feb- ruary 14, 2014.134 As the bird passed, he noted, a small plume of smoke could be seen from the bird's feathers as it glided beyond the site perim- eter into the adjacent wildlands-the solar flux temperature being far higher than the melting point of feathers. "Streamers" would become a new concept to describe avian mortality. Within three months project monitors confirmed the death of nearly 300 birds at lvanpah-and only a third of the project site is monitored.135 The lead biological consult- ants on the project estimated that the solar power tower was the site of 1,500 bird deaths with known causes in one calendar year (from 2013 to 2014) and another 2,000 with unknown causes.136

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FIGURE I 3. The three solar power towers of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, near the California-Nevada border. (Photo: WikiCommons.}


These desert ecosystems would become what Valerie Kuletz called "sac- rifice zones" in her book about the nuclear testing in Nevada. Lands proposed for solar farms were viewed as collateral damage in the fight against climate change. Desert ecosystems with renewable energy resource endowments must be sacrificed to save society from climate change, just as they stood in for national security in stories about the Nevada Test Site.137 Janine Blaeloch of the group Solar Done Right put it this way: "Should we save the desert tortoise, or plow over its habitat to build solar power plants that can help us save ourselves?"138

Debate about sacrificing public lands recurs throughout U.S. envi- ronmental history. Federal lands were at the center of the Hetch Hetchy Valley controversy in California's Sierra Nevada. This case instructively reveals how sacrifices are shaped by security discourses. As early as 1890, San Francisco's mayor, James Phelan, backed by the city's politi- cal elite and later emboldened by the utilitarian conservationist and for- ester Gifford Pinchot, sought water rights to build a reservoir along the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. John Muir described the Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1873 in his serialized and syndicated travel col- umn as a majestic valley similar in appearance to the more famous

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Yosemite Valley, with towering waterfalls pouring over steep granite walls. After the 1906 earthquake set off fires that burned much of San Francisco, arguments for a more robust water supply became more compelling. The Hetch Hetchy Valley, the argument went, must be sac- rificed to secure the city against natural disasters. (A more accurate ver- sion of history recalls that the cause of the ineffective response to the post-earthquake fires was not a lack of water but a failing delivery sys- tem.) Efforts to claim the reservoir were instigated by city leadership once they realized that the limited water resources would only support a small population and they needed more water resources for San Fran- cisco's growth.P? Despite the protests of John Muir and the Sierra Club and efforts to promote alternatives, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was flooded after the completion of the O'Shaughnessy Dam in 1924. Some argue that this wilderness was sacrificed to build San Francisco.

In the cases of the lvanpah and Sleeping Beauty Valleys, conservation and wildlife organizations claimed that desert biodiversity was being sac- rificed for industrial solar. Some even reluctantly agreed that the climate issue was so paramount that some ecosystems would have to be sacrificed to save others and human civilization, making solar energy development sites "sacrifice zones" where the land uses were contested. Sacrifice zones are spaces offered up for some greater good or purpose. The term is loosely used to describe marginalized places that bear the burdens of the industrial economy, purportedly to benefit society overall as measured by abstract notions of progress or development. For example, chemical pro- duction"? and mountaintop removal for coal141 have negative local impacts but arguably provide society with cheap plastics and electricity. Yet, used this way, the term remains theoretically underdeveloped, commonly referring simply to a place unequally devastated or lands con- verted for the sake of development. The act of sacrifice implies an instrumental, deliberate act with clear

underlying motivations. Sacrifice means more than giving away, dis- carding, or neglecting, because whatever is being sacrificed has some value to some person or community, even intrinsic or symbolic value. Discarding or neglecting a place is not the same as sacrificing it, because often decision-makers are too far removed, or worse, do not value the place. It is a slight but important nuance, and it maps onto the debate about siting solar power plants. Sacrifice is the outcome of a contem- plated trade-off, vetted to be acceptable to the one committing the act, even if not acceptable or just to all.

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Developing social theory around sacrifice zones to inform social plan- ning for energy transitions requires a more selective application of the term. Sacrifice zone narratives that loosely apply the concept can lack detail on constitutive social processes, or the agents may not be evident. When chemical pollution is highly concentrated in a community, it could be more a consequence of neglect than any conscious attempt at trade-off among different benefits and Iosses.r" In some places, these trade-offs are worth the benefits to the majority of local residents and voters. Research in West Virginia's Appalachia describes the mountains there as an envi- ronmental sacrifice zone "surrendered to keep power cheap,"143 but it is not clear these are outcomes of any specific logic other than the meta- narratives of capitalist development, globalization, and consumerism.

Shortly after the BLM decision to approve the lvanpah project, Cali- fornia governor Schwarzenegger remarked, "I applaud the Bureau of Land Management's decision and I look forward to more decisions that will help grow our green economy, promote energy independence and strengthen our national security. "144 Similarly, interior secretary Ken Salazar, who presided over and announced the decision, justified it under the banner of energy security. "Under the leadership of President Obama, the renewable energy world is opening a new frontier .... The Department of the Interior is resolute and determined to secure a safer, more sustainable energy future for our nation. We do so because we can't afford to remain so dependent on foreign oil. We do so because we can't afford the risks that our energy dependence creates for national security, economic security, and environmental security. "145

Desert landscapes have historically been depicted and described as wastelands, invoking inhospitable qualities: extreme heat, scarce water, abrasive winds, and freezing nights. Deserts can be forbidding land- scapes, and making lands useful can be challenging. Environmental writer John McPhee recounts numerous failed attempts to cross the Great Basin, the endorheic watershed covering 10,000 square miles of arid western U.S. land roughly surrounding Nevada.146 Similar stories describe fateful attempts to cross Death Valley by early California pio- neers. Today the desert experience is moderated by climate control, reli- able automobility, and other modern conveniences, which have turned deserts into cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

Desolation and emptiness are common frames of reference associated with deserts. How people experience those qualities has changed with time. Views of desolation and emptiness shift from associations with

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crime, scarcity, and vulnerability to attributes held in higher regard, like privacy, land conservation, and human enlightenment through transcen- dental experiences of nature. Those seeking refuge from the ills of urban life and humanity can come to desolate landscapes like this. Like many other writers and poets, Edward Abbey found spiritualism in the desert.147 ln Desert Solitude, he wrote extensively about arid public lands and their exploitation by human civilization and the industrialization of the West. He recognized the dangers of human ambivalence toward these harsh landscapes, which lack the redwoods, oaks, salmon, and other charismatic megaflora and megafauna that public campaigns could be built around. Appreciation for nature in desert landscapes among the public is more widespread today than during the early desert encounters such as the great western human migration across North America in the nineteenth century, which often was a fight just to survive.

As the railroads rolled west, more Americans came firsthand to see the Grand Canyon and its other remarkable landscapes and geological features. Landscapes such as Yellowstone, Yosemite Valley, and the Grand Canyon were apotheosized in the written word and later by pho- tography, which widely disseminated the magnificence of the great west- ern landscapes, and also tended to erase its human presence.l" New appreciations for nature and landscapes soon led to protections for land with extraordinary qualities: scenic vistas, unique biophysical features, areas of conservation significance, charismatic megafauna. Many of the first U.S. national parks and monuments are in the West, but these rep- resent only a small portion of federal lands, much of which contain lands of conservation value, but offer more ordinary ecosystem conservation qualities, interconnections, or habitat for species. Public lands (not national parks and monuments) are clearly of conservation importance, but perhaps lack specific extraordinary qualities requiring greater land protections.

Environmental historian Donald Worster distinguishes between the protection of "ordinary nature" and "extraordinary nature" in his biog- raphy of John Muir.149 Ordinary nature consists of functioning and healthy ecosystems that may lack certain aesthetic qualities. Extraordi- nary nature describes the revered places that humans interpret and cele- brate as sacred. Muir, for example, called Yosemite's peaks the cathe- drals of the gods. He saw relatively pristine areas of the world, lacking much evidence of human presence (conveniently erasing the people who were already there before the Europeans came). Healthy desert ecosys- tems might only be ordinary nature if they lack majestic vistas or rock

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formations. This may partially explain why desert regions may receive less appreciation and advocacy, making them seem worth the sacrifice.

BLM lands have always been tasked to be productive lands. These parcels were originally left over from the Homestead Act. Efforts were made to give these federal lands to individuals and even back to the states, but no one wanted them, with the exception of the occasional mining claim or ranching perrnit.P? Today, public lands are in demand by energy developers, recreationalists, ranchers, mining companies, and conservationists.

The multiple-use mission that guides the BLM seeks a balanced approach that puts land to the highest productive use.151 As established by FLPMA, the BLM takes energy production on public lands to be one of several good uses. The mandate for renewable energy reflects the need to balance out the already widespread use of public lands for fossil fuel and mineral extraction across the West. But even though considered good uses, these activities lead to severe land degradation. The deserts of the Great Basin and Central Asia have already been used as "national sacrifice zones" for militarization and weapons development, with nuclear weap- ons testing called by some one of the planet's worst ecocides.!" A hundred and twenty-six nuclear bombs were detonated above ground at the Nevada Atomic Test Site from 1951 to 1963; the site was selected in part because "there's nothing out there."153 Mike Davis calls the area around the test site the "dead West," affirming that the destiny of the rural American West is as a national dumping ground.154 Explorer John Wesley Powell pleaded that the scarce resources of the West require a cooperatively managed effort: "Capitalism pure and simple, Powell implied, would destroy the west."155

In Savage Dreams, Rebecca Solnit remarks that temporality in desert landscapes is experienced on geological scales, which may make them harder to appreciate and value by biological organisms like hurnans.156 Even the desert's ecology operates across longer temporal scales, as deserts accumulate biomass very slowly compared to other ecosys- terns.!" Desert soil surfaces are easier to damage, particularly the fragile soils covered with cryptobiotic crust, which can take decades and centu- ries to recover.158 Lacking appreciation for these subtleties-the slow movement of tectonics and nature-people may underappreciate the things that hold together these ecosystems, Solnit argues. It is perhaps these understated qualities of nature in desert environs that make people more willing to sacrifice desert biodiversity in the fight against climate change. Empty lands are viewed as idle lands, and across other parts of

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the American West the natural resource beauty contrasts with harsh environs to more thoroughly justify taking the bounty of the otherwise unproductive lands.

Desert landscapes are characterized as barren and neglected waste- lands, a point echoed throughout comments submitted to the formal environmental review processes. Every USSE project on public lands required an EIS. These reports are required when federal actions cause significant environmental or social impacts. One area considered in these reports is aesthetic impacts. With Ivanpah and numerous other projects, the images presented in the visual impact assessment corrobo- rate the view that deserts are wastelands. Images of shotgun shells or tires dumped on the side of dirt roads signal that the parcel may have been neglected. Rarely were photographs taken during the wildflower season or after a rainfall caused a burst of desert color; hot, dry, dusty depictions were the norm in EISs.

Public perceptions of deserts as places less deserving of the protec- tions awarded public lands with more extraordinary nature is rein- forced by views that desert lands are a homogeneous canvas. In the American West, these landscapes more closely resemble complex eco- logical matrices of different degrees of habitat quality and conservation value.159 This region is composed of unique landowners-the federal government's BLM and Forest Service lands, but also military lands, Indian lands, and private lands and inholdings. Many of the latter lands have long been degraded by agriculture, grazing, mining, and vehicular recreation, and some of these parcels no longer harbor the rich species diversity found at sites like the lvanpah Valley .160

Environmental conservation organizations questioned why wild pub- lic lands were the first up for sacrifice, given the availability of private land with few or no comparable ecological features. A frequent public meeting participant and scientist with the California Native Plant Soci- ety said, "The question that's not being addressed here is basically why are they [BLM and solar developers] going on wild public lands first? Our organization and many others understand why we need renewable energy, and why large-scale utility projects will need to be part of the initial equation. But why put these big-scale projects in the intact wild- lands first?"161 Public officials framed the use of public lands as solutions to the challenges of economic recovery, climate change, and energy secu- rity. Other imaginaries envision solar energy deployment much differ- ently, distributed in and around urban areas instead of remote ones.162

Hence, it is critical to deconstruct the arguments for sacrificing public

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lands and whether the options presented are the full complement of opportunities and possibilities for solar energy and biodiversity conservation.

Describing the sacrifice zones of the west, Mike Davis and Rebecca Solnit see hope in a global social movement to counter the context of militarization and war.163 The controversy in the lvanpah Valley reveals the increasingly difficult green politics of climate change trade-offs. Given the specter of climate change, there may be more green forces calling for increased sacrifice of these areas than defending them. The task of environmental movements might instead be to develop and advocate alternatives to such sacrifice. Some environmental organiza- tions are already trying to decentralize solar energy deployment. The NGO Solar Done Right has campaigned for distributed power genera- tion, producing a series of reports documenting opportunities.164 The Wilderness Society publicly recognized one solar energy project sited on an abandoned mine. 165 After these early projects, many major NGOs, such as the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and NRDC, began to more strongly advocate for distributed solar, particularly as state net metering policies came under attack.166 The fate of the desert tortoise and avian biodiversity in the lvanpah

Valley now depends on how well species adapt to the presence of its new industrial solar farms. Wilderness advocates describe the valley as a sacrifice zone for solar energy by an industrial landscape to power the conspicuous consumption of high-energy society. A biologist with Basin and Range Watch asked, "Should we sacrifice public lands to power air conditioners running in empty homes in Los Angeles?"167 He further asked why more attention and finance was not being directed at energy efficiency and conservation. In 2014, the BLM authorized the construc- tion of two more utility-scale photovoltaic farms in the lvanpah Valley- First Solar's Stateline Solar and Silver State South projects, each rivaling the scale of BrightSource's lvanpah project-despite a failed lawsuit from the Defenders of Wildlife that claimed the project jeopardized the fate of a subpopulation of desert tortoises.168 This brought the total number in the valley to four, with First Solar's Silver State North project. The Stateline project is on the mitigation lands for the lvanpah project, so many of the same desert tortoises were moved again. The Silver State South project required relocation of 161 desert tortoises from 2014 through 2015, and 21 died.169

In a New York Times Magazine feature, Rebecca Solnit wrote about the lvanpah controversy, clearly marking the sacrifice as one that is

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worthwhile and recapitulating the false dichotomy of biodiversity versus climate.V? Solnit has written much on the lack of humility and the need for empathy toward the natural world. She captured so elo- quently the militarization and industrialization of the Mojave. Solnit observed that "supporters of fossil fuel and deniers of climate change love to trade in stories like the one about Ivanpah, individual tales that make renewable energy seem counterproductive, perverse. Stories can- not so readily capture the far larger avian death toll from coal, gas and nuclear power generation. "171 The clouds of fear that accompany the apocalyptic narratives about climate change perhaps provoke this kind of reasoning, and perhaps it is warranted.

The studies that compare energy sources and avian impacts do reach these conclusions: coal, gas, and nuclear generation all have higher mortality numbers, mainly due to cooling towers. But impacts vary in the types of birds and extent of impacts, and tolls are geographically specific-with birds of concern in some places, and nuisance or invasive birds in other cases, making up large portions of the mortality figures from conventional thermoelectric power plants. While the magnitudes of relative impacts may be generally correct, the comparison relies on the false premise that all avian impacts affect the same species, and that these are real-world trade-offs in a zero-sum game. It also relies on the false narrative that these lands must be developed because there are no other options. And it ignores the fact that this specific project produces 10-15 % of its electricity from natural gas. So there is a great deal of irony in a wildlands writer dismissing wilderness organizations' con- cerns about a proposed area of critical ecological concern becoming an industrial solar zone, while the warehouses of the Inland Empire, much of urban Los Angeles, the Central Valley, and other disturbed or less ecologically valuable landscapes could be used for solar and sited with community support and input.

Moreover, the technological pathway of siting extensive solar farms in and around wildlands is more likely to produce these avian conflicts than projects in urban or agricultural areas. The fact that wilderness organizations like Basin and Range Watch advocate protecting the Ivan- pah Valley has far less to do with their inability to process the implica- tions of climate change-they study and advocate conservation on the frontline of climate change, the Mojave Desert. It has more to do with lack of imagination about the different possible locations for solar farms.

Solnit writes:

That one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic, is as true of animals as it is of human beings. It's a lot harder to mourn a potential loss of an entire habitat-as is threatened now for birds like the chestnut-collared longspur-than it is to mourn a golden eagle struck down by a turbine blade, or a warbler scorched in a solar farm .... And so we should seek out new kinds of stories-stories that make us more alarmed about our conventional energy sources than the alternatives, that provide context, that show us the future as well as the past, that make us see past the death of a sparrow or a swallow to the systems of survival for whole species and the nature of the planet we leave to the future. 172

As environmentalism increasingly puts climate at the center of envi- ronmental politics, local ecologies and cultures can be erased or sub- sumed to address this effort. Sacrificing public lands for renewables only seems acceptable because of the potential contribution to holding off the worst consequences of climate change.

As electric utilities are required by law to buy renewable electricity, it is not a matter of solar versus coal or natural gas, but about different configurations of solar generation and electricity demand. A reduction- ist epistemology of carbon causes Solnit to miss the tremendous vio- lence done to the ecosystems by industrial solar facilities, and to reca- pitulate the false choices at the surface of the Ivanpah Valley debate, failing to dig deeper, and ignoring the progress articulated in the West- ern Solar Plan. The question is not whether energy pathways can respond to climate action, but how.



Conflicts over land resources for solar energy may become increasingly common as energy systems transition from fissile and fossil fuels to renewables. Renewable energy technologies have relatively low power density (power per area). These extensive spatial requirements may clash with efforts to preserve wilderness. This makes it imperative to plan for the impacts of solar energy development, as environmental conflicts are neither desirable nor inevitable.173 This polarizing dichot- omy of solar development versus biodiversity is only a partial truth, because better land selection could drive projects to previously disturbed

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land, which covers some of the California desert, including lands cur- rently in or retired from agriculture. That there may be sacrifices based on false dilemmas means that it is crucial to explore how the justifica- tions and terms of the sacrifice are constructed and negotiated. Who participates, shapes, and arbitrates matters of sacrifice, and under what kinds of power asymmetries?

Evidence from projects sited on public lands across the American Southwest supports many prior explanations for the social gap in renewable energy development. In many cases, it was not so much that individual USSE projects were industrializing desert landscapes but the threat of cumulative solar energy development across spatial scales. These proposals came into conflict with conservation priorities on pub- lic lands. The controversies around the early projects provided lessons learned to incorporate into more substantive planning processes that would be undertaken to avoid future conflicts.

Despite their problematic nature, there was very little formal opposi- tion to the USSE projects fast-tracked during the ARRA period. Some researchers explain that this is because "when this sort of techno-opti- mism meets the desert, it cannot help to seek [sic] to transform it. "174 Arguments about how solar development can contribute to solving the climate crisis complicate conservationists' efforts to "protect nature for nature's sake." 175

Social resistance to solar energy projects can be attributed to factors unique to this early moment in renewable energy deployment. Projects sited on more degraded or agricultural lands were far less controversial, as evident in the number of comments from environmental organiza- tions on First Solar's Agua Caliente project, on farmland, compared to its Desert Sunlight project near Joshua Tree National Park. During an interview with a solar project opponent near Blythe, California, they pointed to an expanse of land across the highway, saying, "You see that one over there? We didn't fight that one. It was an old jojoba farm ... retired some time ago. "176 Geographical and ecological context is cen- tral to understanding the degree of opposition, but also perhaps the legitimacy of the grievances.

Conservation groups viewed the BLM as an agency without a clear mission, highlighting a tension between patronage and administrative discretion and regulation. 177 The bureau is a legacy of the compression of two institutions-the General Land Office and the Grazing Service- into one land management organization in 1946. The natural resource agency seeks to pursue multiple missions simultaneously. Conservation

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of wildlife and ecosystems is one, but so is the development of energy and mineral resources, as well as recreation, hunting, and other multi- ple uses. Institutional drivers undermined land-use decision-making to promote stewardship of public lands.

Policies designed to foster investments in clean tech led to conflicts between USSE development and environmental organizations over natu- ral resources in the American Southwest. There are significant challenges to simply "putting the market to work" for renewables because powerful industry actors can intervene in the process, steering the incentives away from more appropriate sites. Some projects were built with little opposi- tion, while others were slowed by litigation or were literally reshaped by the threat by it. The approach to processing ROW applications lacked competition and was unable to guide developers toward more appropri- ate project sites. Early in the process it also clearly overwhelmed BLM staff, who were already facing cuts and other budgetary challenges and a high workload. The bureau was required to process and initiate environ- mental and cultural resource reviews for every ROW application, even when it was unclear whether a project was economically viable.

There were communities that invited projects, particularly those interested in local job creation and tax revenue. Local chambers of com- merce enthusiastically endorsed projects in their public comments. Communities would reach out to developers as well. At a trade show during the 20n Solar Power International conference in Los Angeles, California, among the many photovoltaic module manufacturers and input suppliers was a section of tables staffed by nonprofits and govern- ment agencies. The city of Needles, California, had a table, paid for by the Needles Public Utility Authority. The top of its display proclaimed to potential developers seeking land for solar projects, "We own the land! We own the water!" Some locals invited renewable energy devel- opment for job creation, tax revenues, and other activities spurred by construction. These rural regions also tend to have the highest unem- ployment rates in country.

Some view desert landscapes as wastelands and ideal sites for solar power. To others, renewable energy sprawl is needed to supply civiliza- tion's insatiable appetite. These controversies highlight the land-use and stewardship challenges associated with solar energy transitions. Why do locals oppose renewable energy developments? Policies to foster solar energy have largely favored investment banks and large energy firms, and, coupled with land managed by a federal agency with a his- tory of serving industry, this ultimately shaped solar power plants'

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scale, environmental burdens, and impacts on cultural resources. How- ever, in a world with numerous options for siting solar energy, the more pressing question is, why are projects heading to the most controversial places first? Institutional inertia helped widen the gap between social acceptance and institutional approval by making the siting process somewhat inflexible to various applicant-technology-project site combi- nations. With the right approach from the start, these trade-offs may not be necessary, allowing more harmonious integration of energy land- scapes and the built environment.

The next chapter reviews an energy development framework that attempts to balance solar energy deployment with wilderness conserva- tion. The early controversies of solar power projects point to the need for a comprehensive approach to land-use planning for solar power. Two land evaluation processes were initiated alongside the development of two major elements of public policy promoting solar energy develop- ment. The first was California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which was advocated by then Governor Schwarzenegger and signed into law alongside the state's RPS. A mostly parallel federal ini- tiative called the Solar Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was also developed in response to the BLM renewable energy mandate and the opening of western lands to solar speculation. These planning processes aimed to minimize controversies like those sur- rounding the Imperial Valley, Sleeping Beauty, and Ivanpah projects, with greater expectations for consultations and collaboration, culmi- nating in the Western Solar Plan.178


The Western Solar Plan

Energy scholar Vaclav Srnil anticipated the land-use challenges of solar energy deployment long before the controversies over utility-scale projects in the American Southwest. Impacts include direct wildlife mortality, disturbance of the soil surface and resulting dust emissions, road construction, and habitat fragmentation.1 Yet, as finance was made available to build USSE projects on public lands, the policymak- ing community lacked sufficient information on the environmental and cultural impacts of these shovel-ready ARRA projects. Complicating these reviews was the fast-track status of over a dozen projects. The research literature was also not very useful. Instead of comparing less and more favorable sites or cataloguing species and forecasting impacts in specific regions, many published studies compared the impacts of solar energy to other technologies such as wind, coal, and natural gas.2 These comparisons are perhaps useful for some other scale, or maybe some other time. But land-use planners rarely face decisions between coal, gas, and solar power plants. With the lack of information about where to site projects on public lands, it is no wonder that some USSE projects became so controversial. A science-based collaborative plan- ning effort could minimize the ecological and community impacts of scaling up solar to terawatt levels.

The BLM approved sixty renewable energy projects, including thirty- six USSE projects, between 2008 and 2016; four were technically denied. Only nineteen of the USSE projects are operating or under