Solar power hits a tortoise roadblock

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La tortue du désert freine les projets de grandes fermes solaires aux Etats-Unis

Des panneaux solaires dans le désert près de Los Angeles © AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK

A threatened tortoise species is obstructing plans to build huge power plants in the deserts of the US Southwest

IT IS almost high noon in California’s Mojave desert. Two biologists clad in fluorescent vest-jackets carry tortoises in plastic boxes through the creosote bushes, away from a 15-square-kilometre construction site that the animals once called home. Against a pastel mountain backdrop stand three towers (pictured). When the plant is completed, each will rise above a sea of mirrors. Together they will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes.

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), a threatened species, has become the unwitting focus of a battle over the future of solar power in the US that has divided the green movement. Both sides want to expand solar, which in 2011 supplied a paltry 1 per cent of the nation’s electricity. But can the US rely on people installing solar panels on their roofs and plugging them into the grid, or does it also need to build massive power plants in the sun-drenched desert?

New Scientist

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