Soda Mountain Solar Project Facts
The Soda Mountain Solar Project is a proposed industrial scale renewable energy development that would be constructed less than one mile from the boundary of Mojave National Preserve, the third largest national park unit in the lower 48 states. It would be one of the closest, if not the closest, renewable energy projects to a national park unit in the entire southwestern United States.
The proposed project is approximately 4000 acres with the solar field occupyingaround 2500 acres, straddling both the north and south sides of Interstate 15. It would include a substation, access road, realignment of an existing route (Rasor Road), operations and maintenance buildings, and lay-down areas.
The Soda Mountain Solar Project threatens bighorn sheep migration corridors, desert tortoise habitat,natural areas,scenic viewsheds and the integrity of adjacent wilderness study areas. Moreover, the project’s groundwater pumping could harm water quality and quantity at Mohave Chub Spring in Mojave National Preserve, the home of the federally endangered tui chub, one of our most unique and rare desert fish.
Mojave National Preserve
There is both an economic and environmental imperative to protect Mojave National Preserve- a national treasure and the lower forty-eight states’ third largest national park unit! The Preserve is 1.6 million acres and has spectacular examples of three out of four North American desert ecosystems: Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin. It has elevations ranging from almost 8000 to 800 feet above sea level; 600 foot high singing sand dunes; the largest and densest Joshua tree forest in the entire world; relict white fir and chaparral vegetation that line high mountain peaks; and over 240 naturally occurring seeps and springs that provide sustenance for a wide variety of desert wildlife species. The Preserve is a recreational haven for hikers, backpackers, bicyclists, stargazers, equestrians, botanists, history buffs and wildlife enthusiasts. As of 2010, Mojave National Preserve had over 600,000 recreational visits and those visitors spent over $13 million in gateway communities and supported over 200 full and part time jobs.
There are significant threats from the project including the following:
1. Desert tortoise. The proposed project is located in a key habitat linkage for the desert tortoise, identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
2. Desert bighorn sheep. Biologists specializing in desert bighorn sheep conservation and management are working to delineate and reestablish key migration corridors for desert bighorn. These linkages connect areas supporting bighorn populations and, if protected and enhanced, will ensure that bighorn populations do not become genetically isolated. Isolated populations of bighorn sheep that become genetically isolated are less healthy and have a greater chance of becoming extirpated. In California, one of the more promising locations to re-establish gene flow across a major freeway (the I-15) is between the North and South Soda Mountains where this proposed energy project would be located. There are two ways that regular gene flow might be re-established. One is for bighorn sheep to go under existing highway bridges, and such bridges exist on Highway 15 between the North and South Soda Mountains. Although sheep are rarely crossing under such bridges if at all, it may be possible to use the addition of drinking water to bait sheep to begin using some existing bridges. The other approach will be to build a bridge for bighorn sheep across the highway in a strategic location. Neither of these methods will work if the habitat on either side of the highway is made impassible for bighorn sheep by the construction or operation of this project.
3. Groundwater. Groundwater pumping for the construction and operation of the proposed project could threaten the water resources at Mohave Chub Spring in the Mojave National Preserve . Mohave Chub Spring supports a population of the federally endangered Mohave tui chub, one of our rarest desert fish. We are very concerned that pumping of naturally limited groundwater to support the project may adversely impact water quantity and quality at Mohave Chub Spring and the federally endangered Mohave tui chub.
4. Nationally significant conservation lands. The proposed project is directly adjacent to the Soda Mountains Wilderness Study Area and the Mojave National Preserve. The project is not compatible with maintaining scenic viewsheds and the natural character of these two areas. The Soda Mountains Solar Project violates San Bernardino County’s recently passed Renewable Energy Ordinance, which states that:
“For proposed facilities within two (2) miles of the Mojave National Preserve boundaries, the location, design, and operation of the proposed commercial solar energy facility will not be a predominant visual feature of, nor substantially impair, views from hiking and backcountry camping area with the National Preserve.”