Caring for Creatures at Utility-Scale Solar Projects
First Solar works hard to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts from its solar power projects, in line with its mission to generate energy in a sustainable way. Case in point: the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farms project that the company is building in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. for MidAmerican Solar. First Solar developers collaborated with public resource agencies and with national and local environmental organizations on a plan that will preserve in perpetuity 22,000 acres of the Carrizo Plain as habitat for species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, pronghorn antelope and tule elk.
Care for the environment is also an integral part of project construction. Topaz employs up to 10 biologists, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave the work site, six or seven days a week. They check all work areas for wildlife prior to any construction activities. In addition to helping maintain compliance with the project’s numerous environmental conditions and conducting wildlife surveys in preparation for opening new work areas, they patrol all active work areas throughout each day looking for wildlife and potential wildlife issues. During bird nesting season they conduct intensive daily surveys to locate and protect nests within and near work areas. And they regularly relocate small mammals and reptiles out of work areas to offsite preserve lands.
Recently project biologist Mike Hill came upon a young loggerhead shrike, a bird that feeds on lizards and large insects, in an area being prepared for work. The bird had no obvious injuries but was unable to fly. Hill, who works with Topaz consultants Althouse and Meade, rescued the bird and turned it over to Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) for evaluation. PWC volunteers nurtured the bird back to health and released it last week in the Carrizo Plain.
Young loggerhead shrike rescued by Topaz biologists
Hill says he and the other biologists have captured and successfully relocated “warm and fuzzy” mice, kangaroo rats and cottontail rabbits, as well as not so “warm and fuzzy” rattlesnakes and tarantulas.
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