Native Americans sue U.S. over solar power plant in desert


A Native American tribe has filed a lawsuit against the federal government in an attempt to block construction of Tessera Solar’s Imperial Valley solar power plant in the Sonoran Desert.

The 709-megawatt solar farm, planned for more than 6,000 acres of public land near El Centro, wrapped up its approval process in October.

But the Quechan tribe alleged in a complaint against the Interior Department that the installation could damage “cultural and biological resources of significance.”


The tribe said 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 projects, 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 harm a region known for the flat-tailed horned lizard, which plays a key role in the tribe’s creation mythology, the complaint said.

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, the project is expected to create up to 700 jobs during 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 BrightSource, SunPower and other solar energy firms that have been stymied, if only temporarily, by wildlife concerns on proposed solar farm sites.