California tosses out solar lawsuit

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - California's supreme court refused to consider a lawsuit filed by an influential environmental group seeking to delay construction of a solar plant because it might harm rare plant and animal species.

The state supreme court said it would not review the Sierra Club's complaint against the Calico Solar Project — one of a string of lawsuits accusing solar power plant projects across the largest U.S. state of harming the environment.

The court offered no explanation. In its complaint, America's oldest environmental organization argued to the courts that the California Energy Commission had approved the Calico project improperly, failing to take into account potential harm to native flora and fauna.

The ruling "is a boon for California's economy and could pave the way for hundreds of construction and operator jobs over the next several years", California Energy Commission chair Robert Weisenmiller said in a statement.

The project was developed by K Road Sun, which bought it from NTR's Tessera Solar. The Sierra Club did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Conflicts between solar proponents and foes are taking on growing importance as the industry experiences a boom, particularly for California.

Other companies with plants under development that are raising environmental concerns include First Solar Inc and SunPower Corp.

The Sierra Club's lawsuit charged regulators failed to fully mitigate the project's impact on rare plant and animal species, and asked the court to void approval and permits.

It was one of a string of suits targeting planned solar plants, potentially setting back the development of solar energy and derailing state and federal commitments to lessening dependence on fossil fuels.

In December, a group called La Cuna de Aztlan, which represents Native American groups such as the Chemehuevi and the Apache, filed a challenge in federal court to the federal government's approval of six big solar plants. That same month, the Quechan Indian tribe won an injunction blocking construction of the Imperial Valley solar project, under development near California's border with Mexico.

The Calico plant was under development by Tessera until the company sold the plant last month to K Road Sun, a subsidiary of New York investment firm K Road Power.

Last year, just three new utility-scale solar plants serving California came online, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. Now, there are more than 40 plants with contracts or pending contracts with the state's utilities under development.

While fostering renewable energy has become an important federal and state goal, proposed plants are meeting increasing resistance from groups that believe the plants will do irreparable harm to threatened or endangered plants and animals or historic areas.


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