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Native American lawsuit threatens to derail California's solar boom

Native American lawsuit threatens to derail California's solar boom

Wave of solar plants faces legal challenge, despite government approval

By Danny Bradbury

04 Jan 2011

A Native American group has sued the US Department of the Interior (DoI) for approving a selection of large solar projects in California, claiming that artefacts and burial sites could be desecrated.

The lawsuit, brought by the La Cuna De Atzlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, calls into question six solar projects approved by the State of California. A number of high-profile projects, including Brightsource's 3,400 acre Ivanpah project, the 7,000 acre Blythe project, and the 4,600 acre Calico project are among them.

The plaintiffs accuse the DoI of failing to properly engage in consultations under the National Historic Preservation Act, and of falling short of legal requirements with its environmental impact assessments. It also failed to seek alternative sites for the projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit says.

Also affected by the suit are Chevron Energy Solutions' Lucerne Valley 400 acre project, the 6,400 acre Imperial Valley project and the 2,000 acre Genesis project.

The legal action could signal further trouble for California's collection of solar projects, which have been widely hailed as evidence of the state's position as one of the world's leading generators of solar energy. The Ivanpah project, for example, has already been the subject of controversy because of its potential impact on a desert tortoise

Tessera, which began the Calico and Imperial Valley projects, faces particular challenges. It sold the 850MW venture to K Road Power on Tuesday, a day after the lawsuit was filed. 

It has also been engaged in legal battles over the Imperial Valley project, which has still to attract the required funding. On 15 December, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing construction on the project, following a lawsuit by the Quechan tribe alleging improper consultation.

"Tessera Solar continues its efforts with securing project equity and satisfying the required compliance work on the Imperial Valley Solar Project near El Centro, California," the company said earlier this week. 


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