Saying the project "would not be in the public interest," the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday denied a Spanish company's application for a controversial wind and solar farm in the Silurian Valley.
The closely watched decision is considered a test for how the federal agency will handle future requests to build renewable energy projects outside established development areas.
Jim Kenna, the BLM's California director, made the decision, finding that Iberdrola Renewables' proposal would have industrialized 24 square miles of "a largely undisturbed valley that supports wildlife, an important piece of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, and recreational and scenic values."
The project's 480-foot wind turbines and its fields of photovoltaic panels would have "too great of an impact on the resources," the agency said in a statement. "The BLM concluded that these impacts likely could not be mitigated and that the project would not be in the public interest."
Iberdrola Renewables sought approval of its Silurian Valley project under a "variance" application. It would have been the first major exception to federal land managers' approach of "guided development" across more than 22 million acres of California desert.
The guided development policy seeks to encourage companies to develop in areas that have been preapproved for projects, where they would encounter less environmental or wildlife conflict.
Environmental groups and recreational users had been concerned that Iberdrola Renewables' facility would disrupt migration corridors and harm birds. The adjacent sand dunes are a popular mecca for off-highway vehicles.
"We are quite pleased that the BLM made this decision," said Kim Delfino, the California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. "It's encouraging that they are taking those criteria seriously."
A representative of Iberdrola could not be reached for comment. The company can appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of the Interior.