Quechan elders protest construction of solar power plant
Several members of the Kwatsan Pipa A'Koots are very unhappy with the government, which has given Tessera Solar North America a green light to begin the construction of a massive solar power plant in Imperial County.
Pipa A'Koots are a sect of Tribal Elders of the Quechan Nation dedicated to protecting sacred sites.
“It is very frustrating,” said Vernon Spencer Smith, Kwatsan Pipa A'Koots member. According to Smith, Native Americans in the area have lived all over Imperial County in the past, and have left behind remnants of their civilizations.
“We know, even though we don't live there any more, and we don't own the land, our ancestors are out there. They left a lot of things behind. When they say they want to destroy, we say no, you can't do that. Those are areas we feel we need to protect. There are things you should not destroy.”
On Oct. 5, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Imperial Valley project, one of two being built by Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems (SES), was approved, allowing the 709-megawatt concentrated dish solar station to move forward.
The Quechan Tribe has filed suit in an attempt to prevent construction of the Imperial Solar Two site near Ocotillo. The project has already won approval from the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management.
“The public lands ... are within the traditional territory of the Quechan Indian Tribe and contain cultural and biological resources of significance to the tribe, its government and its members,” the suit states.
“The tribe and its members also have an interest in preserving the quality of the land, water, air, fauna, and flora within the tribe's traditional territory, within and outside the reservation. Specifically, the tribe is concerned with impacts to the habitat of Flat Tailed Horned lizards on lands proposed for development, as the lizard is a central part of the tribe's creation story.”
Tessera gave a statement to the Yuma Sun claiming the company had spoken with local tribes and saw no reason not to proceed with construction.
“The BLM and Tessera Solar engaged in a lengthy and thorough consultation with affected Native American tribes and other interested parties that resulted in a comprehensive programmatic agreement governing treatment of cultural resources,” said Janette Coates, communications manager at Tessera Solar and SES.
Preston J. Arrow-Weed, Pipa A'Koots member, disputes the tribe ever gave the project their blessing.
“We went to the meetings, and at the end of the meetings or at any time, I said no. I didn't hear anyone say go ahead and do it. No one said it,” he said.
Smith shared photographic evidence of human bones with the Yuma Sun, which he said were laying on top of the ground where the solar plant is to be built.
“Those are human bones,” he said. “They are not saying anything about it, but this is what is out there. I thought that would be a major issue for everybody.”
The project was one of the first two solar power projects ever approved on public lands by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The proposed plan is for a concentrated solar electrical generating facility capable of generating 750 megawatts (MW) of renewable power. The proposed site is located on approximately 6,140 acres of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and approximately 300 acres of privately owned land.
The project site is in Imperial County, Calif., approximately 4 miles east of Ocotillo, and 14 miles west of El Centro. If the suit is rejected, the project will be constructed in two phases.
The plant will use thousands of SunCatchers, 25-kilowatt solar dishes that are designed to automatically track the sun and collect and focus solar energy onto a power conversion unit, which generates electricity.
The project would also require the construction of an electrical transmission line, water supply pipeline, and a site access road. A new 230-kV substation would be constructed approximately in the center of the project site.
On Nov. 15 and 16, a coalition of citizen activists will gather in Ocotillo, Calif., to oppose the solar project and support the lawsuit against it.
The protest will begin Monday at 11 a.m., along the Evan Hewes Highway opposite Painted Gorge Road, four miles east of Ocotillo.
According to demonstration organizers, construction of the project would involve bulldozing 6,000 acres of intact desert with immense habitat and cultural values.
“This project is so large it will block a crucial connectivity corridor between two core populations of the flat-tailed horned lizard,” said herpetologist Laura Cunningham. “We need to preserve this desert habitat, not industrialize it.”
The solar plant will be extremely detrimental to the environment, Arrow-Weed said.
“There are other creatures — it goes on and on. The whole ecology is going to be upset and turned upside down for what they are doing.”
For more information about the protest, call Terry Weiner at (619) 342-5524.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.