One might expect environmentalists to fight a new power plant, but a new battle being waged by California green groups against a solar facility shows there may be something new under the sun, after all.

A solar-powered plant proposed by industrial giant Bechtel on federal Bureau of Land Management property in the Mojave Desert could supply up to 170,000 homes in Los Angeles with electricity from the sun, but it also would make life difficult for about 100 Bighorn Sheep and other critters, according to the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. Their concerns have convinced the city not to buy electricity from the 350-megawatt Soda Mountain project.

“The City of Los Angeles spoke with one voice and rejected buying power from the ecologically damaging Soda Mountain Solar project,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. “Given the Bureau of Land Management’s recent decision to approve the project, this leadership from Los Angeles is well-timed and makes a powerful statement.”

The BLM approval, issued earlier this month, scaled back the size of the plant and established safeguards for the sheep, as well as fish, desert tortoises and other animals that might be affected by the project. The federally-approved version would have supplied 79,000 homes and required Bechtel to hire a “Bighorn Sheep Monitor” who would ensure that no construction take place while sheep are within 1,000 feet of the site. The company would also have to provide water in selected areas in an attempt to coax the herd to use highway underpasses and establish a migration pattern.

Environmentalists want the sheep to be able to cross the nearby I-15 highway so they can breed with other herds and avoid becoming inbred. They claim that even the limited solar installation might get in the sheep’s way because it would be built near existing highway underpasses. Local environmentalists acknowledge that the sheep do not currently use the underpasses, but say they might in the future.

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