Unions Fight against Solar Energy Project in California Desert

Tuesday, January 04, 2011
(graphic: California Energy Commission
The legal hurdles just keep cropping up for developers of solar energy farms in the Southern California desert.
California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to stop the Genesis Solar Energy Project near Blythe, claiming the 1,950-acre, 250-megawatt farm will use too much groundwater to construct and operate. The water in question would come from the Chuckwalla Basin, an aquifer that’s connected to the Colorado River, argues CURE.
The solar farm would be built and operated Genesis Solar, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, which is a consortium of FPL Group and Florida Power & Light. It would not use solar panels to create electricity. Instead, it would produce steam by using mirrors that would focus sunlight on water-carrying pipes.
The real issue would appear to be that the unions want to make sure that they are involved in the project, and they are using environmental complaints to force the developers to hire union workers. For example, back in 2009, CURE fired environmental objections to a solar project by a company called Aursa, which refused to pledge to hire only union workers. But when another company, BrightSource Energy, which had agreed to hire union workers, proposed a solar farm that might have threatened a desert tortoise, CURE lobbied to have the project approved.
The most recent lawsuit follows another one filed by the Quechan Tribe, which is trying to halt the Imperial Valley Solar Project, which will consist of 28,360 “SunCatcher” dishes spread across 6,360 acres of public land outside of El Centro. The tribe contends the solar farm could damage Quechan cultural artifacts, as well as desert flora and fauna, including the endangered flat-tailed horned lizard that holds a significant place in tribal lore.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Enviros Throw Another Wrench Into Solar Energy from Desert (by Robert Kahn, Courthouse News Service)
Battle Brewing Over Giant Desert Solar Farm (by Todd Woody, New York Times)


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