Solar Energy and the Mojave Desert Tortoise

Cover of report

Publication Number: CEC-500-2016-065
Report Date: November 2016

Solar Energy and the Mojave Desert Tortoise (PDF file, 185 pages, 12.2 MB).



The southwest US has attracted attention for development of new renewable energy generation. However, these energy development projects may adversely impact natural resources and values in this area, including state- or federally-protected species. In some cases, environmental conflict and project delays have resulted because (1) information on potential impacts and successful mitigation strategies is incomplete; and (2) the increased scale and number of projects has raised concerns about cumulative impacts and the need for alternative mitigation strategies to land acquisition. This project provides a framework for assessing the impact of renewable energy projects on the protected Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) and, on the same scale, quantifying the benefits of proposed mitigation strategies.

Researchers developed spatial decision support tools that provide scientific information on potential threats, impacts, and recovery actions affecting desert tortoises in California. Research under this project (1) developed new information on the comparative effectiveness of recovery actions; (2) explored alternative models for quantifying the population effects of habitat fragmentation; (3) refined system models and calculations; and (4) tested the system using data from three solar energy development projects.

Using these tools, planners, and project reviewers can better visualize, evaluate, and monitor the direct and indirect effects of energy projects on the tortoise. Users can input solar energy project footprints and run impact and mitigation calculations. Also, users can determine the types and extent of recovery actions that can be most effective for mitigation. Consequently, this can reduce environmental conflict and permitting delays for renewable energy.

This research supports the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan by identifying mitigation strategies and key areas for desert tortoise recovery. The methods and system framework developed for this project are applicable to other regions, sensitive species (e.g., Mohave ground squirrel), and renewable energy technologies (e.g., wind, geothermal).