San Joaquin kit foxes, © USFWS

At What Cost?

A solar power plant in Panoche Valley could spell disaster for endangered species

Birds are migrating sooner. A severe drought plagues California. And wildlife such as the American pika are literally running out of habitat as temperatures increase in alpine areas. As we witness the impacts of climate change on our environment and wildlife, promoting clean energy projects is a top priority for the conservation community.

As critical as it is for California and our nation to transition to clean energy, it does not mean that clean energy projects should be approved no matter what the cost is to the environment. To that end, Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation partners have been working to promote policies and planning efforts at the local, state and national levels that employ “smart from the start” principles. This means that large-scale renewable energy projects move forward with careful planning that keeps wildlife in mind, and only in places where they will not cause undue harm to wildlife, habitat and other natural resources.

The Panoche Solar Farm is the antithesis of this approach. Local, state and national environmental organizations all vigorously oppose this ill-conceived project, and several months ago, Duke Energy withdrew as a major investor. Yet the project proponents, a company called PV2 Energy, continue to aggressively push regulators for the permits they would need to build there.

Giant kangaroo rat, © George Harrison/USFWS

Why do we care so much about the Panoche Valley? It is absolutely vital habitat for three federally endangered species: the San Joaquin kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the giant kangaroo rat. All three of these species have lost so much of their habitat that there are only three core areas left for them to survive and thrive in. And the Panoche Valley is the only one that remains largely intact — both of the other two have been significantly degraded by development. The Panoche Valley is their last, best chance for survival; the only thing standing between them and potential extinction. There is simply no place left for this wildlife to go.

As if the survival of these three species wasn’t enough reason for its protection, the Panoche Valley is also a refuge for many other rare species. including: mountain plover, burrowing owl, golden eagle, San Joaquin pocket mouse, tiger salamander, fairy shrimp and many more, including a number of rare plants. This diversity of plants, animals and birds thrive in the Panoche Valley because it is one of the rare places where you can still find San Joaquin Valley native grasslands.

Since 2010, Defenders has argued vigorously to the project developer that we oppose any size project in this location. We have also suggested other locations for this project, in areas that would not impact wildlife so severely. With the latest changes, the project is now smaller in size than originally planned, and has proposed to buy a large amount of land to try to offset the project’s impacts. But no amount of mitigation can remedy the fact that development on the floor of the Panoche Valley would mean the end to any hope of recovering the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt nosed leopard lizard and giant kangaroo rat for the future.

Unfortunately, those of us working for responsible renewable energy development had a setback two weeks ago. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the power purchase agreement for the project, which is the contract in which the project developer promises to deliver power to the utility. While the Commissioners approved the Panoche project agreement, they also took great pains to clarify that while they were approving the agreement using their narrow criteria, which did not include any consideration of environmental impacts, they were troubled by the project’s location. PUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval voted against the agreement and stated that she had “become increasingly troubled about the environmental issues.”

Defenders will keep working to ensure that the imperiled wildlife of Panoche Valley is protected. We will also continue our work to encourage other energy projects to get the most out of renewable energy sources without sacrificing wildlife, wild lands, and treasured landscapes. We have been working with the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management to put policies and programs in place to do just that. By sticking with the right approach to renewable energy projects, and by rejecting destructive projects like the Panoche Solar Farm, we can quickly transition to clean, renewable energy while we protect our nation’s waters, wildlife and wild places.

Kit Fox Facts

The tiny and secretive San Joaquin kit fox is one of the most endangered animals in California.

Learn More »

27 Responses to “At What Cost?”

  1. Ruth Marie Wise

    How disturbing and tragic that we human beings are nothing more than parasites on this wonderful Earth; using it up and destroying the fascinating diversity of wildlife and fauna that also call it home. When will we wake up and realize this is all we have, that we cannot undo the harm that we do, that we are racing to the point where we have nothing left?

    • WILSON

      I believe the reason we are parasites is because we do not belong here on Earth. I do not know where we came from or how we got here, but we do not belong. There is no other living thing on Earth like Humans. There are too many of us, we are destroying the planet with our greed and selfishness. I believe we were sent here from some unknown place, probably because we were a freak of nature, too violent and destructive, so were isolated here. Maybe one day we will mature and be able to go home.

    • Lynne Wright - Photographer/Realtor

      I sure hope that in the future, we still have our beautiful creatures….it’s the saddest thing to hurt those that cannot speak for themselves and truly brings tears to my eyes. It is very nice to have a forum where I can say these things to other folks with similar beliefs. Thank you Defenders of Wildlife!

    • HYLUND WALKER

      THIS COMMENT IS IN RESPONSE TO WHAT WILSON HAS TO SAY ….YOU ARE SO RIGHT ON!!!…WE ARE NOT SPECIES OF THIS PLANET…WE ARE AN ABOMINATION OF SOME REALLY BAD EXPERIMENT FROM SOME OTHER PLANET!!!! AND THEY SHOULD OF DROPPED OUR SORRY ASSES ON SOME DESOLATE ASTEROID OR JUST DESTROYED US ALTOGETHER.
      THE THING NO ONE TALKS ABOUT(EXCEPT FOR A FEW OF US) IS THE OUT OF CONTROL BREEDING GOING ON..EVEN AS A CHILD OF THE 50’S I SAW THERE WERE TOO MANY OF US SO I VOWED NEVER TO PARTAKE IN THE BEARING OF HUMANS ..YUCK… SO MY PROPOSAL IS …(BECAUSE NO ONE TAKES RESPONSIBILITY!!) IS TO MAKE BIRTH CONTROL MANDATORY….EVERYWHERE!!!! JUST LIKE FLUORIDE THAT NO ONE WANTS IN THE WATER SO TOO BIRTH CONTROL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Gloria Hovde

      Humans have evolved over millions of years and survived by working with the natural environment to preserve our species. We have had to learn that natural resources are abundant if used wisely but all living things are interdependent so we must be careful about how we approach problems and their attendant solutions.

  2. CC

    Why put solar panels in wildlife habitat when they could so easily be placed on the roofs of houses, roofs of any buildings, or even in SOLAR FREAK’N ROADWAYS! Thanks for working to protect threatened habitat!

  3. WILSON

    I cannot believe that the American people allow wolf, bobcat and coyote killing contests with prize money for the most kills. This is pure evil and only supports my other comment.

    • M.E.

      I completely agree with your comments. There are plenty of books which support your idea that we humans are from somewhere else. There is also the book “Ishmael” that explains how we came to believe what we believe (re. the Earth and other species). Unless we humans throw out our old destructive paradigm and embrace a new paradigm that sees us as being a member of the community of Life, we will probably continue to wreak havoc on the planet.

  4. L.M.Ashley

    PUT SOLAR WHERE IT CAN SHADE PARKING LOTS AND BUILDINGS, NOT WHERE IT DAMAGES HABITAT

  5. PC

    I agree w/ CC… this is insane ..there are other ways that will not impact the wildlife. This is really sad.

  6. Jill

    i second what CC said – absolutely no need for a “solar plant” when panels easily go other places that don’t impact the environment and supply tremendous amounts of clean energy. This is just another sneaky, earth-damaging way for corporations to “own” this energy because Sunlight’s free. Zero need for it. ZERO.

  7. Geoffrey Harold

    RETHINK, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REPLANT…

  8. Virginia McIntyre

    Shut down your blasted HAARPS and we would not have this CLIMATE CHANGE problem. Quit tampering with nature. Quit killing the wolves and other wildlife. Just STOP distroying our planet. JUST STOP IT.

  9. Dr. James Lazell

    The Earth is overpopulated with humans and California is a focal point of that. Renewable energy can work fine if there are just many fewer of us.

  10. Johanna van de Woestijne

    Placing solar in sensitive wildlife habitat areas makes no sense at all, especially while we have thousands of miles of freeways, parking lots, roofs, and degraded agricultural land in the central valley that could be covered first. My solar panel installer also told me that he has been working on a project that has long strips of 8 foot wide solar panels alternating with open strips on agricultural land, that actually reduces water consumption in certain vegetable crops by providing shade for part of the day as the sun moves over the agricultural crop. The farmer gains the benefit of a dual income from both the crop and the solar panels. With this drought we are having, this seems like a smarter move, using partial coverage on agg land, than reducing our natural ecosystems further.

  11. Maggie Frazier

    We really need to stop these large corporate entities from destroying the habitat entirely to make money – we do need solar, but as many others said – put it where its not doing more to devastate our wilderness and our wild animals! This kind of tampering with nature only to further their greed and power needs to stop!

  12. Johnny Sauter

    I agree with Virginia McIntyre. Supposedly, Man with his so called infinite wisdom seems to think he can improve on what Mother Nature has given us.

    Native American cultures state that you must give back what you take from the land. Look around you and maybe you will understand when I say ” Someday your eyes will listen “

  13. Tess Husbands

    This isn’t the first desert ecosystem they’ve destroyed to help the climate. The earth-system sciences stated long ago, humankind is “suicidal” when we skin, denude, gouge and scrape wild, natural ecosystems as only ecosystems, alone, provide every single lifeline mankind has for life itself. If any credibility exists to these sciences, we’re killing Earth and every reason we breathe to help the climate. Science also reveals, ecosystems are the agents that absorb/store the greenhouse gases for Earth, and desert soil is tops at this ecological service. When they disturb the soil in an ecosystem to make room for the dead solar panels, mined from a rare earth mineral, these absorbed gases escape back into the atmosphere to warm the climate. When they remove the plants and trees, for solar panels, more of these gases escape. We’re destroying the ecological service that takes care of these climate warming gases for Earth when we skin, disturb and alter wild, natural ecosystems.

  14. Marilyn Snyder

    I emailed the California Public Utilities Commission and the Department of the Interior and Land Management expressing my concerns for the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and the rest of the endangered wildlife that this supposedly “green” project is destroying and that this valley is their last strong-hold. I don’t know if it will help, but is all I can think to do about this. How terribly upsetting!!!

  15. SS in Colorado

    Yes, if solar plants are built by business/corporations, they can make money off customers. In the process, more environmental damage & endangered flora & fauna will be threatened or entirely destroyed while they build their big facilities. It would impact far, far less if the government helped every home and business to afford to have solar panels on those existing roofs. Of course, a third party would not be able to siphon off hard-earned money, so I don’t know if logic and fairness will be able to achieve that. But there is a glimmer of hope… thanks Defenders of Wildlife, for all you do to protect those who cannot speak for themselves.

  16. Sharon B

    I have no faith in the human specie. Greed and inconsideration for any other living creature will continue. The brutality of the treatment of animals is beyond comprehension. The way the earth is trashed is mind boggling. There will never be enough people to realize the importance of minimizing, recycling, and respect other living creatures large and small. This is not negative…it is just fact.
    Goodbye earth.

  17. Sharon

    So thankful to read everyone else’s response and to know that there are so many who realize the true cause to most all environmental issues is humans. I have recently started a new way of living. It is called “Wildlife First”. And, what this means is – in my daily actions whenever possible, I think of animals, plants and the earth. And, put them as a priority. This is an easy solution to many problems. I was talking with a neighbor and he was saying how… “in some areas there are so many deer that more get hit by cars, than hunted by people.” My thought is… what makes a human driving a car fast more important than a deer’s live? Nothing. In my mind – the deer is always more important. That is why I drive slowly all the time. “Wildlife First.”

  18. Virginia

    Please provide something for the public to sign which shows our solidarity as to how vehemently disapprove the placement of this solar power plant and its negative environmental impact.

  19. KLD

    I concur….’Humans’ are so cruel, and the irony is that we are supposedly the only living creatures that can tell right from wrong and therefore have the capacity to stop doing cruel things. Nature can be cruel, but that is literally natural instincts and hormone/hunger driven. ‘Humans’ kill countless dolphins at the cove, whales in Norway,Iceland,Japan etc, skin alive and eats dogs at the Yulin dog meat festival, torture fighting dogs, slaughter elephants for their ivory (PLEASE NEVER EVER BUY IVORY- if you have the misfortune to come across it then if at all possible just BURN IT),
    torture noble bears to dance etc etc…sadly the list goes on and on. And ‘Humans’ do this just because they CAN. Tragically, research has shown that anyone that can be cruel to animals has a natural propensity to also be cruel to children, as they get off on destroying beauty and innocence. Then I look out of the window and it’s a sunny day in central London, the trees are blossoming and the sky is blue. Nature is the ONLY thing that grounds me and diffuses my revulsion.KLD

  20. Georgia P. Gruver

    I get so fed up with these “public” agencies which always seem to side with the developers, oil companies, big ranchers etc. instead of doing, what I believe, most Americans want, which is to save our planet and all the species who inhabit it.
    I write emails, make phone calls and do everything else I can think of to get our “representatives” to wake up to the dangerous path we are on.
    When the human race is on the verge of extinction because of all the bad decisions that were made, maybe then whoever is left will wake up to the fact that eliminating so many of our fellow earth residents was/is the real reason we are dying off!
    “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
    ― John Muir

  21. Red Alder

    I’d like to point out that AB32 is partially to blame for this outcome.

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