Ivanpah (BrightSource) Phase 2 & 3 On Hold – Tortises

BLM halts construction at Ivanpah solar project due to ‘take’ of tortoises

By Andrew Engblom

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has directed BrightSource Energy Inc. to suspend most construction work on two of the three phases of the company’s Ivanpah solar power project, citing concerns over the impact on desert tortoises at the site.

In a letter dated April 15, the BLM said that BrightSource should “immediately and temporarily suspend all further surface disturbance or construction of fences under the [Notices to Proceed] issued on March 2, 2011, for Ivanpah 2 and Ivanpah 3.”

Before construction and other activities can resume, the company must obtain a revised “Biological Opinion and Incidental Take” statement, the BLM said. BrightSource can then seek authority from the BLM to resume activities.

BrightSource was, however, permitted to continue construction activities at its Ivanpah 1 site, as that unit is inside of fenced areas, the BLM said. Some limited activity can also continue at Ivanpah 2.

This decision, the BLM explained, is based on the “current status of the Biological Opinion” and the incidental take limits established for the project.

“As communicated to you, it is the position of the BLM that activity on the Ivanpah project site has reached, and in some categories, just exceeded the incidental take limited for further construction activities within Ivanpah 2, and Ivanpah 3, with certain exception,” BLM California Desert District Manager Teresa Raml said in her decision.

BLM California State Office spokeswoman Erin Curtis said the specific “take” in question does not actually involve deaths of the animals, but instead “handling” of tortoises. The original record of decision allowed for 38 tortoises to be handled over the life of the project, but the company has already handled 39.

“That triggered us to issue the temporary suspension notice,” she said.

Part of the problem, she said, is that authorities underestimated the number of tortoises in the area and thus underestimated the number of animals that would be impacted. This has a number of implications for the project, including that the plan to relocate the tortoises must be revised to handle the additional animals.

“The plan was for moving a much smaller number,” Curtis said. “Now we have got to have a plan to for where to put them.”

The news threatens to complicate a string of recent steps forward for the company, including the April 11 announcement that Google Inc. was investing $168 million in the project and the April 23 announcement that BrightSource is looking to raise $250 million in an initial public offering.

Also on April 11, BrightSource said it had closed on a $1.6 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee for the Ivanpah power project.

In its Form S-1, filed as part of the proposed IPO, BrightSource said that the BLM’s decision will require the issuance of a revised biological opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to its receiving permission to proceed with the construction of Ivanpah’s second and third phases.

“While our engineering team is actively engaged in technical design of Ivanpah, Bechtel is leading its construction and [NRG Solar LLC] will manage its operations,” BrightSource said in the filing. “We have guaranteed all obligations of our subsidiaries that have entered into agreements to provide solar field systems and services for each of three phases of Ivanpah.”

The Ivanpah solar power plant is a crucial project for the company, as it is intended to serve as a full-scale demonstration of its proprietary solar power technology system. The plant, when completed, will have a gross installed capacity of 392 MW.

According to SNL, Ivanpah 1 has a capacity of 126 MW, while Ivanpah 2 and 3 each have a capacity of 133 MW.

BrightSource owns the Ivanpah project in concert with NRG Energy Inc. unit NRG Solar and Google. NRG Solar is listed as the lead equity owner.

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