2010 Annual Report

Large-scale solar installations like this one in Europe are being permitted for development in the California desert. NFWF’s IDEA program will administer funds from developers of renewable energy projects to mitigate impacts to threatened wildlife, such as desert tortoises.

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Mitigating Environmental Impact

California’s investment in clean energy, fueled by support from the federal govern­ment, soared in 2010. The California Energy Commission approved applications for nine solar facilities which will generate more than 4,100 megawatts — enough to power more than three million single family homes for a year.

The Colorado and Mohave deserts in the state’s southeastern region have been targeted as prime locations for these large-scale installations. Protecting the deserts’ fragile ecology has been identified as a top priority by state and federal agencies, and is mandated by both state and federal law. Accordingly, companies building renewable energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado deserts are required as part of the permitting process to minimize and mitigate their impacts on local species and habitats. The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), composed of representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the California Energy Commission, enlisted NFWF’s assistance in May 2010 to help permittees comply with these requirements.

Through the REAT agreement with NFWF, companies have the option to deposit mitigation funds in an account administered by NFWF’s Impact Directed Environmental Accounts (IDEA) program. The IDEA program, which has existed at NFWF for more than 20 years, is designed to receive, manage, and disburse conservation funds arising from legal and regulatory proceedings — court orders, settlements of legal cases, and regulatory permits like those issued by the REAT —  and ensure they are applied effectively.

  • 33% amount of electricity to be supplied by renewable energy in California by 2020
  • 20 wildlife species potentially affected by renewable energy development
     
  • 90% decline in the number of desert tortoises since the 1950s

Solar installations in the Colorado and Mojave deserts could pose risks to as many as 20 wildlife species, and the desert tortoise is of particular concern. The tortoise is already classified as threatened, and its recovery is further challenged by a rising number of ravens. Tortoise hatchlings present a ready food source for the birds, which have followed humans into the arid environment.

“Ravens are very intelligent and adaptable, and they use development to move across the desert, where they didn’t live before,” says Vicki Campbell, Endangered Species Act Specialist for the California Office of the Bureau of Land Management. “They’ll perch on power lines or trees, find a tortoise population, and have a pretty big impact. The renewable energy projects present an opportunity for the ravens to increase, and we need to deal with this so it doesn’t decimate the tortoises.”

In the coming years, the REAT expects to work with IDEA to identify raven concentrations, focus on necessary mitigation actions, and oversee land acquisitions that will create core tortoise habitat in areas away from disturbances. “With the REAT agreement, we’re making sure that we can tie the mitigation funds to actual projects that are identified up front,” Campbell explains. “NFWF’s staff problem-solves with us. They figure out how to make it work on the ground.”

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