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Disputed solar project in Calif. desert dropped

Environmentalists succeeded in blocking a 5,130-acre solar power farm that would have risen in the Mojave Desert.

A proposed solar-energy project in the California desert that caused intense friction between environmentalists and the developers of renewable energy has been shelved.

BrightSource Energy had planned a 5,130-acre solar power farm in a remote part of the Mojave Desert, on land previously intended for conservation. The company, based in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday said it was instead seeking an alternative site for the project.

The Wildlands Conservancy, a California environmental group, had tried to block the solar development, as had Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who proposed that the area become a national monument.

The land was donated by Wildlands to the Interior Department during the Clinton administration, with assurances from President Bill Clinton himself, the group says, that it would be protected in perpetuity. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a Bush administration initiative, opened the land to the development of solar projects.

"We salute BrightSource for their responsible behavior," said David Myers, executive director of Wildlands. "A major conflict between the environment and renewable energy is over."

The plant would have been "at the heart of a signature valley" filled with bighorn sheep and other natural treasures, said Myers, who added that he hoped BrightSource would now find a "more appropriate site."

Representatives of the company did not return calls for comment.

BrightSource, a high-profile company with investors like Google and advisers like the environmental campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr., builds large-scale, sophisticated solar plants in the United States, Israel, and Australia. It is developing more than 4 gigawatts of solar power in the southwestern United States, according to its Web site.

The company uses a technique in which hundreds of small mirrors redirect desert sunlight onto a single central tower, where the heat generates steam.