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Quechan tribe sues to stop Imperial Valley Solar Project

November 4, 2010 |  9:58 am

Another day, another challenge to a massive desert solar proposal.

This time, Tessera Solar's Imperial Valley Solar Project is in the hot seat. A Native American tribe is suing the federal government in an attempt to stop construction of the installation, which wrapped up its approval process in October.

The 709-megawatt solar farm, planned for more than 6,000 acres of public land in the desert near El Centro, could damage "cultural and biological resources of significance," the Quechan tribe alleged Friday in its complaint against the Interior Department.

The tribe claims that department officials ignored Quechan concerns and rushed through or skipped important permitting steps, violating federal law.

State and federal agencies have fast-tracked several major solar proposals, aiming to break ground by the end of the year to take advantage of expiring federal stimulus funds.

More than 28,000 SunCatcher solar dishes intended for the site could negatively affect a region known for the flat-tailed horned lizard, which plays a key role in the tribe's creation mythology, the complaint said.

Suncatcher-09 Tessera, which is also moving ahead on a similar installation near Barstow, has agreed to buy 6,600 acres of lizard habitat to offset its activity on the Imperial Valley project.

In a region that has been economically hard-hit, up to 700 jobs are expected to be created by construction, along with 160 permanent operation positions.

The Quechan tribe, which has about 3,500 members, is asking a federal judge in San Diego to issue an injunction against the project. For thousands of years, the tribe has lived on a broad sweep of desert crossing from Arizona into Southern California, according to the complaint.

Tessera now joins developers including BrightSource and SunPower that have been stymied, if only temporarily, by wildlife concerns on proposed solar farm sites.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A Tessera SunCatcher. Credit: Tessera

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