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NextEra solar project advances despite “significant impacts”

by Dan Fischer
Alfredo A. Figueroa, the historian and Chemehuevi elder we quoted in our recent article on the Ivanpah solar project, sent the following email yesterday about the NextEra Blythe Solar Project‘s assault on southern California desert. In January, the California Energy Commission decided to approve a revised proposal for the $1.13 billion, 485-megawatt project, which will use solar photovoltaic technology.
To All the Environmental Activists and Defenders of Mother Earth and Enforcers of the Creation Story along the Colorado River
We urge you to please contact State and Federal government officials, Senators, Congressman, Secretary of Interior, President Obama, etc to please stop these solar power projects. Since the destruction of the Twin Towers by Hernan Cortes in 1521 in Mexico, there hasn’t been anything more devastating  than what the solar project have done and are still threatening to do to the sacred sites especially the Kokopilli/Cicimitl Twin Geoglyph Group.
Please forward this information to your contacts so we can get the word out to everyone.
If you have any questions, please let us know. We will be more than glad to answer you.
Alfredo Acosta Figueroa
Patricia Robles

Significant Impacts

In October, the California Energy Commission, the same institution that recently approved the solar project, published an assessment voicing serious concerns. The commission concluded NextEra Blythe would have “significant impacts” on the environment and would eliminate “all native plant and wildlife communities” across 4003 acres. Habitat would be lost for “desert tortoise, American badger, desert kit fox, golden eagle, various migratory birds, burrowing owl, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard.”

Although NextEra intends to mitigate these damages, the report finds that despite these measures the effect on protected avian and bat species “may remain significant.” NextEra’s poor environmental track record also leaves doubt about the efficacy of its mitigation plans. NextEra operates Florida’s West County Energy Center, which Earth First! Journal reported last year to be the largest fossil fuel plant in the US. NextEra also owns New Hampshire’s dangerous Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant. Some 2,400 people famously occupied the Seabrook site in 1977 in opposition to nuclear power. Police arrested 1,400 of them.

Furthermore, NextEra’s solar project would negatively impact “approximately 142 known archaeological resources eligible or assumed eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources,” according to the California commission. Affected sites and items would include ancient footpaths, shards of a pot “possibly associated with sacred activity,” and a rock structure thought to be connected with female puberty rites. The Chemehuevi, Mohave, Quechan, Maricopa, and Halchidhoma have used the area and consider it sacred.

“We are the official guardians”
The attachments in Figueroa’s email include the following photos of sacred geoglyphs (large etchings in the ground) near the project site. The first one depicts Kokopili, a deity in a half human, half insect form. The documentation explains Kokopili is hurt “because humans have not respected the Creator’s dictation of harmonious equilibrium among all species.” The second geoglyph depicts Kokopili’s twin Cicimitl.
Geoglyph 1Geoglyph 2

Google Earth images from the early 1990s do not contain the geoglyphs, suggesting that they are of recent origin. The California Energy Commission’s report even asserts there is “no evidence” that the sites are exceptionally significant. I asked Figueroa to respond in an email.

“The Kokopili/Cicimtl Geoglyph Group is known throughout the world,” Figueroa wrote. “These geoglyph images are a major part of the Indigenous history and tradition and of the creation story of all Native-American Tribes and of Mexico.”

He continued, “We are the official guardians of these geoglyphs as stated in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bureau of Land Management.”

Although NextEra contends their development will not directly damage the geoglyphs, the Chemehuvi Tribe’s chairman Charles Wood considers interference with surrounding land to be tantamount to interference with the sites themselves.

“I use the example of the Catholic Church. I want to build a pipeline through the Vatican mall. It’s really not a part of the Vatican, so it’s not sacred. And suddenly they’re saying no, this whole area is sacred. And for Indian people that’s one of the things we’re constantly coming up against. We look at not that little area, but we look at the total landscape, especially with regard to the geoglyphs. There are hundreds of them, and they’re probably over a stretch of hundreds of miles. And they all inter-connect. (The Killing of Kokopili)

If It’s Broke…Break It More

The California Energy Commission’s report employed a disturbing logic when discussing several sacred sites. Basically, they argue that since sites have already been significant degraded by surrounding pollution, it is therefore permissible to desecrate these sites further.

In addition, staff notes the close proximity of the throne to multiple and incompatible modern developments such as an interstate highway, transmission lines, four wheel drive roads, cell towers, an illegal trash dump and a nearby airport that mar the integrity of setting, feeling, and association, that, were the throne to be indeed a historical resource, would no longer convey its significance. Further, the two individual petroglyphs, while more likely of greater age than 50 years have also lost integrity due to similar reasons stated above (California Energy Commission, page 85).

This way of thinking could provide an incentive to companies to damage additional protected land, so that this land will likewise be considered to have lost its “integrity”.

National Monuments

Mr. Figueroa believes NextEra’s development violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which includes the right to protect past, present and future manifestations of culture, including archeological and historical sites. Figueroa cited articles 8, 11, and 13.

I asked Mr. Figueroa what he would like to see happen in the southern California desert.

“These geoglyphs should be declared National Monument Sites by President Obama and World Heritage Sites by UNESCO,” he wrote. “We are currently submitting our request to UNESCO. These are sacred sites.”

Contact Decision-Makers

Figueroa urges people to contact the White House, Department of the Interior, Senators and Congressional representative and voice opposition to NextEra’s Blythe Solar Power Project which destroys sacred cultural sites.
1) Sign this petition to the Department of the Interior and White House.
2) Contact the Department of the Interior at (202) 208-3100 and feedback@ios.doi.gov.

3) Contact your US Senators and Congressional Representatives.

Attachments in Figueroa’s email: