Press Release

Avantus Partners with State and Federal Agencies to Protect 215,000 Acres of Critical California Habitat and Wildlife

Nov 16, 2022

First-of-its-Kind Conservation Effort Retires Grazing Rights for Land Mitigation, Permanently Protecting a Swath of Mojave Desert Seven Times Larger than San Francisco

LOS ANGELES and SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — November 16, 2022:
Avantus (formerly 8minute), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have partnered to conserve and reallocate more than 215,000 acres from an active grazing allotment to an area permanently dedicated to wildlife forage in Kern County. The Onyx Conservation Project (Onyx) is among the largest mitigation projects in the nation and will provide critical, permanent protection and enhancement of the Mojave Desert plants, including the western Joshua Tree, and animals that live across the expansive site.

Onyx is notable for its historic, contiguous size and is the first time grazing rights have been retired to mitigate for multiple solar projects, a novel approach that balances clean energy development and conservation. A contiguous area seven times larger than the city of San Francisco, Onyx will provide greater benefits for desert species to thrive than traditional mitigation strategies, which typically involve small, disconnected land parcels resembling a checkerboard. Avantus will also invest millions of additional dollars for habitat enhancements across Onyx to jumpstart restoration for desert plants and wildlife species.

“Our Department is committed to the conservation, protection and restoration of the Golden State’s habitat, and this groundbreaking state and federal public-private partnership provides a roadmap for how renewable energy can continue to combat climate change while also providing landscape-level ecosystem benefits to native plants and wildlife,” said CDFW Regional Manager, Julie Vance. “By purchasing and permanently retiring the grazing rights, Avantus is assuring this rich, vibrant land is preserved and its inhabitants can flourish.”

Located between Ridgecrest and Mojave in Kern County, Onyx is particularly well suited for conservation as the area’s habitat includes 20 sensitive wildlife species including the California condor, Mojave desert tortoise, American badger, Mohave ground squirrel and golden eagles. It is also estimated to include more than 80,000 acres of western Joshua tree habitat, including 3,000 acres of dense woodland. This conservation effort will help sustain the health and diversity of the desert ecosystem, which is underlaid by designated Wilderness Areas, Desert National Conservation Lands, and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. All 215,000 acres will also be open for public recreational use, including hiking and camping.

Onyx demonstrates how collaborative public-private partnerships can work to develop innovative approaches to conserving precious land and deliver on President Biden’s America the Beautiful campaign. The initiative established a national goal to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and freshwater by 2030, commonly referred to as 30x30, and is designed to help tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.

“The single greatest threat facing desert ecosystems is climate change, and Avantus is proud to be driving climate solutions that are decarbonizing our planet at the gigaton-level. Our portfolio of utility-scale solar and energy storage centers will deliver affordable, emissions-free energy to tens of millions of Americans, which allows us to embark on innovative mitigation strategies of the same magnitude,” said Dr. Tom Buttgenbach, Founder and CEO of Avantus. “In line with our ambitions to be a clean energy major, the Onyx Conservation Project will provide critical habitat preservation and environmental benefits at a scale our industry has never seen before. This is a prime example of our endless pursuit of smarter, more sustainable solutions and we thank our federal and state partners for working with us on this pioneering effort.”

Avantus is one of California’s top solar and energy storage providers, with a long track record of success in Kern County, including the first operating solar plant to beat fossil fuel prices and a groundbreaking project to deliver solar with storage at record-low prices. The company is on track to provide more than half of California’s utility-scale solar and storage demand over the next decade.

Avantus works closely with wildlife agencies and environmental organizations to advance environmental efforts and safeguard species throughout all stages of a project’s life. Avantus’ past projects have received support from respected groups, including the Sierra Club, Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.