Center for Spatial Studies
Increasing energy production from renewable sources is a strategic priority for California and the nation. Large, utility-scale solar developments have been proposed for the Mojave Desert to help achieve this goal, and many more are anticipated. However, such developments have extensive land and water requirements, and they can have negative impacts on ecosystems and vulnerable species. Protecting existing populations and habitat for the state and federally-listed Mojave desert tortoise, while implementing recovery actions to improve habitat quality, is also a high priority. Tools are needed to quantify the impacts of various developments and to determine the set of recovery actions and mitigation measures to compensate for those impacts. To address this need, the University of Redlands and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Desert Tortoise Recovery Office developed a Geographic Information Systems-based decision support system. The system modeled the interrelationships among existing threats and their contributions to population change, and evaluated how those relationships are affected by proposed recovery actions. However, the original version did not explicitly incorporate potential changes in underlying threats, such as those resulting from new solar energy development. This project expanded the original system to support environmental review of new solar energy development projects. Improvements to system models, calculations, and technology enable users to conduct spatially-explicit and fully documented combined impacts analyses of solar projects, and evaluate mitigation options for the desert tortoise. This project also developed a Web-based portal, where users can input solar energy development project footprints and run new impact and mitigation calculations. Agencies are using the system to assess the probable impacts of individual solar energy development projects on the desert tortoise and potential mitigation actions. This supports agencies in making better decisions to promote conservation, while reducing uncertainty and delays in the permitting process for the benefit of California's ratepayers.
California Energy Commission