Judge grants injunction halting Tessera solar plant

* Federal judge sides with Quechan Indian tribe on plant

* Rules government didn’t adequately consult with tribe

* Says tribe could suffer “irreparable harm”

By Sarah McBride

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 15 (BestGrowthStock) – A federal judge on Wednesday
granted the Quechan Indian Tribe’s request to temporarily halt
work on a giant solar plant under development by NTR’s (NTRb.CO: )
Tessera Solar.

The move represents something of a roadblock for efforts to
bring more solar power to the U.S. and will likely bolster the
position of various groups that are fighting to stop
construction of solar plants around the Southwest.

While fostering renewable energy has become an important
federal and state goal, proposed plants are meeting increasing
resistance from groups who believe the plants will do
irreparable harm to threatened or endangered plants and animals,
and in this case historic areas.

United States District Judge Larry Burns ruled that the
federal government failed to adequately consult the tribe before
approving the planned solar plant, which is slated for tribal
lands in the Imperial Valley, near California’s border with
Mexico. Extensive consultation on the project is required by
law.

The 709-megawatt plant, enough to power at least 140,000
homes, is part of a group of fast-tracked solar projects that
were slated for review by year-end.

In part, that deadline was designed to ensure the plants
would qualify for a stimulus grant that was slated to expire
Dec. 31. But now it seems likely that Congress will extend the
grant program by another year.

Deadlines notwithstanding, “government agencies are not free
to glide over requirements imposed by Congressionally-approved
statutes and duly adopted regulations,” Judge Burns wrote in his
order.

He further noted that the Department of the Interior, the key
defendant in the tribe’s suit, helped draft the requirements at
issue. Congress and the DOI “could have made these consulting
requirements less stringent, but they didn’t,” he wrote.

Burial areas and other significant landmarks are scattered
across the proposed plant’s site.

To some extent, the lawsuit is moot. The development of the
Imperial Valley plant, plus Tessera’s 664 megawatt Calico solar
plant, are on hold, a Tessera spokeswoman told Reuters last
week. The company is looking for ways to finance the plants,
which would each cost around $2 billion to build.

Parent company NTR told investors last week it had written
down the value of its solar-development business by 96 million
euros ($127 million).

The Quechan tribe must email a proposed order temporarily
enjoining the project by Friday.

Spokespeople at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land
Management and a spokeswoman at Tessera didn’t immediately
respond to requests for comment. Quechan tribal representatives
couldn’t be reached.

Several other planned solar plants are running into trouble
with various parties. A group including the Audubon Society is
suing to block a plant under development by Solargen in central
California’s Panoche Valley.

First Solar’s (FSLR.O: ) Topaz plant, which the company hopes
to start building next year, has drawn ire from environmental
groups partly because it is slated for a central California area
home to endangered San Joaquin kit foxes. The San Luis Obispo
county planning commission is considering the project in March.

SunPower’s (SPWRA.O: ) proposed California Valley Solar Ranch,
also slated for construction next year, has alarmed
environmentalists due to its location in a habitat for
endangered giant kangaroo rats. San Luis Obispo County’s
planning commission will consider the plant in January.
(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Hans Peters)

Judge grants injunction halting Tessera solar plant