The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is the largest concentrated solar facility in the world. Located in California’s Mojave Desert at the Nevada border, the solar plant helps meet California’s electricity needs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 640,000 tons annually. While this transition to renewable energy sources is laudable, the context is more complicated: the site of the solar plant is prime habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and is part of the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. Environmental manager Doug Davis of NRG Energy oversees the nation’s largest private-sector desert tortoise and bird protection programs to reduce the solar plant’s impact to the desert ecosystem.
Doug attributes his graying hair to the slew of unexpected issues that have increased the solar plant’s impact to local and endangered species. Yet he is committed to maximizing the intactness of the ecosystem that now coexists with the solar plant. To do so, Doug’s team extends to federal agencies such as the BLM, USGS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife; dozens of biologists working on longitudinal tortoise and bird survival studies; and conscientious solar plant employees. Though there is still much to do, Doug is dedicated to an intact desert ecosystem because he understands the value these species’ survival for the desert and the world: “There’s a reason I live in a rural small community—[so] that I can listen to the coyotes at night and see the stars. I don’t want that to go away.”
By Elizabeth Greenfield