BLM sued by unions over Genesis Solar Project approval

The California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late December 2010 over its approval of the 250 megawatt Genesis Solar Energy Project citing water use issues.

CURE, part of the California’s State Building and Construction Trades Council, alleged that the project takes water from an aquifer connected to the Colorado River without entitlement, which is prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit could prevent construction on the project from getting underway. The Genesis Solar project is being developed by NextEra Energy, Inc. (Nasdaq: NEE) subsidiary, Genesis Solar, LLC.

The solar thermal trough project will use 202 acre-feet of water per year as part of its power production process. The company said the water used is equivalent to the water use of about 525 homes while providing power for roughly 80,000 homes.

Mark Joseph of environmental law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, said, “According to the final Environmental Impact Statement, the project will be pumping water from a water base connected to the Colorado river.…They [i.e., the BLM] refused to determine how much Colorado River water will be used by the project.”

Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the company must get a permit to use that water, he said.

Joseph said the lawsuit focused on two claims. There is an entitlement claim, and a claim that the BLM failed to look at the impacts of using the water.

“This is consumptive use of water; it is going to be pumped out and is not going back into the ground. BLM failed to require the applicant get a legal entitlement [for that use],” he said.

Responding to earlier concerns raised by CURE, Genesis Solar chose to build the plant using dry cooling as opposed to wet cooling, which would have consumed much more water—1,600 acre-feet, annually.

“The real issue would appear to be that the unions want to make sure that they are involved in the project,” one site,, said.

AllGov said CURE previously objected to a solar project proposed by Aursa, but the company would not pledge to hire only union workers.

But when BrightSource Energy agreed to hire union workers for a solar project, CURE lobbied for the project despite the project threatening desert tortoise habitat.

That might not be the case here.

In a July 2010 press release, NextEra said it would work with the construction trade unions to assemble, install and construct the solar facility. Joseph said there was no contract with labor unions in place at this point, however.

NextERA did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Pictured: Solar thermal troughs, similar to those that would be built for the Genesis Solar Energy Project, courtesy of the California Energy Commission.