Last month, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Beijing, President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping both agreed to new goals aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by both countries. While this announcement was applauded around the globe, individual renewable energy projects in the United States, which will help the country meet these new benchmarks in the transition away from traditional energy sources, are still encountering strong public opposition from local communities as companies propose them. The Palen solar project and Soda Mountain Solar, each proposed near California’s Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve respectively, have been facing furious opposition from various groups and individuals despite the potential these projects have to greatly increase the solar capacity in the area. Given these projects’ proximity to a vast expanse of natural habitats, environmentalists and opponents have in part, caused the withdrawal of the Palen application and the slow progression of the Soda Mountain project.
In September 2014, BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar withdrew their application for the Palen solar project, a surprising course of action after the project’s preliminary approval by state regulators just two weeks prior. One primary reason is the change of tax credit. According to BrightSource senior vice president Joe Desmond, the project was unlikely to be completed by December 2016, meaning it wouldn’t qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit that expires at the end of that year.
Besides the change in tax policy, the California Energy Commission only approved just one solar tower rather than the two that the company’s original proposed. According to the Energy Commissioner, one tower “feasibly lessens” the significant impacts while “attaining most of the project’s objectives.”
After they have received state preliminary approvals, oddly, last December, the commission rejected the project, stating “significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated.”
If the project were able to proceed, it would have been the second large-scale solar tower facility in the United States. Each of Palen’s solar towers would have topped out at 750 feet and generated 250 megawatts of electricity. The voices of opposition echoed loud and firm, saying the project would be standing in the way of active bird migration corridors and potentially kill a large number of birds. Plus, it could damage the historical sceneries in the Joshua Tree National Park.
Not too far away from the of Palen’s solar project’s site, Soda Mountain Solar Project is also being challenged by the local public opposition. The site located in a public land present adjacent to Mojave National Preserve, which is also in between Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Parks. Opponents argue that the Soda Mountain Solar Projecting standing in between the two national preserves will kill enormous numbers of migratory birds.