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Bad News for Entire Solar Industry: Giant Desert Array Halted by Judge

Tessera Solar’s $2.1 billion, 709-megawatt plant, which could power more than 140,000 homes, has been put on hold because of a request from the Quechan Indian Tribe.

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In October, Tessera Solar’s Imperial Valley Solar Project and the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project became the first utility-scale solar installations on federal lands to gain approval from the Bureau of Land Management. It was a major milestone for the slew of utility-scale solar projects vying for approval, 14 of which have been fast-tracked by the Department of the Interior.

But these projects might not get underway as soon as planners originally anticipated. Tessera Solar’s $2.1 billion, 709-megawatt plant, which could power more than 140,000 homes, has been put on hold by a judge because of a request from the Quechan Indian Tribe. That could mean there are similar problems waiting for other major desert-based solar projects.

The injunction against Tessera came about because the Quechan tribe claimed the Department of the Interior and Bureau of
Land Management (BLM) didn’t adequately consult it before granting permission for the solar project to be built on tribal lands. The massive plant covers a number of landmarks and burial areas for the tribe. But Tessera objected to the injunction in a statement:

During the course of the
environmental impact analysis and consultations with the Quechan, other
Native American tribes and interested members of the public, Tessera Solar
substantially reduced the amount of land to be used by the Project by
approximately 30% from its original BLM application in order to
avoid potentially sensitive areas, even when not specifically required by
Federal or State law. These changes included avoiding nearly all of the sensitive
cultural resources located on the project site and incorporating substantial
mitigation measures. 

The injunction sets a precedent for objections to all the other utility-scale solar projects gearing up for construction. For every massive desert-based solar project, there is a tribe, environmental group, or other third party with a problem. Some of these concerns are valid, to be sure, but they also have the potential to slow down supersized solar development in the U.S. And if we can learn anything from the Cape Wind offshore wind farm, which has been embroiled in controversy for nearly a decade, it is that large renewable energy projects have no shortage of detractors that can grind the construction process to a halt.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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