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8minutenergy, Sierra Club partner to protect owls in CA as solar farms move forward

A solar projectLast week 8minutenergy, a photovoltaic project developer building giant, utility scale projects in California, announced that it is expanding its partnership with Sierra Club and the Imperial Valley Community Foundation to create a fund to help protect burrowing owls in California, through education efforts. At almost the same time it announced Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approval from the Madera County Planning Commission for its 90 megawatt Lotus Solar Farm in the California county.

The company’s approach to developing solar projects has been somewhat unique since it focusses on developing projects on previously disturbed land in an attempt to minimize its projects’ overall impact. Under the agreement with Sierra Club and Imperial Valley it takes its conservation efforts one step further. The Burrowing Owl Stewardship and Education Fund s designed to help protect the habitat of the burrowing owl in California’s Imperial Valley. The valley foundation and Sierra Club worked with worked with 8minutenergy and to establish the framework and goals of the fund, which will be managed by the foundation.

The company created the funds voluntarily, according to 8minutenergy President Tom Buttgenbach. “We feel that the burrowing owl is an important species for the Imperial Valley given that most of the burrowing owls live there,” he said. “We make it a point to invest in our local community. While our projects have very minimal environmental impacts given their siting on disturbed land, we feel it is  beneficial for all parties to go above and beyond the required mitigation for our projects. This also demonstrates that developers and environmental groups can work together to create projects that are ‘smart from the start,’ as Sierra Club has called them.”

"The way in which 8minutenergy seeks input from environmental groups regarding its solar projects should serve as a model for other renewable energy companies. We appreciate 8minutenergy's inclusive approach to developing solar energy,” said Bill Corcoran, western regional campaign director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. 

As part of the company’s training in sensitive areas with the burrowing owl, 8minutenergy will have its employees go through appropriate training, Buttgenbach said. “However, the burrowing owl fund is just getting off the ground, and details will be implemented in the next year,” he said. “The leadership committee of the fund will be comprised of IV locals and subject-matter experts, and there will certainly be additional BUOW surveys and monitoring associated with our projects’ construction and operations.”

Just before it announced the new fund, the company announced it received approval for another large PV farm, the Lotus Solar Farm Buttgenbach said it was the first project the company had planned for that county. The recently approved solar farm is planned 459 acres of previously disturbed grazing land, according to 8minutenergy. The company already is advanced stages of engineering development for the project. The company anticipates completing the project late 2013.

Construction on its other current project, the 800 megawatt Mount Signal Solar Farm in Imperial Valley is already under construction, according to Buttgenbach. And both projects are part of planned more than 2 gigawatt pipeline for the company, all on disturbed land in California.

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