Desert tortoises could delay solar project

PRIMM, Nev., Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Environmentalists have asked the California Energy Commission to block a solar energy project in the Mojave Desert.

BrightSource Energy Co. plans to build an array of solar panels on 5.6 square miles in the Ivanpah Valley on the California-Nevada border. But biologists clearing out desert tortoises for a fence have found them in greater numbers than expected, The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., reports.


Approval for the project was given based on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that there were no more than 32 tortoises on the entire site, not enough for development there to have a major impact on the species. Now, 17 have been found in a small area.

Kevin Emmerich of Beatty, Nev., a member of Basin and Range Watch, argues that the Ivanpah Valley tortoises have adapted genetically to higher altitudes, giving them a leg up at surviving global warming.

Adam Eventov, a BrightSource spokesman, said tortoise numbers are still uncertain.

"At this point, it's a snapshot," Eventov said. "It's too early to know how many will be moved until we spend more time in the field."

The commission has said it will rule on the project Tuesday.


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