A Stirling solar dishTessera Solar wants to install 28,369 solar dishes on 6,000 acres of California desert.Photo: Stirling Energy SystemsIf 2010 was the year of big solar projects, 2011 is shaping up to be the year of big solar litigation.

Weeks after California and federal regulators approved the last of nine massive solar thermal power plants that would generate more than 4,000 megawatts, a Native American group has sued to block construction of six of the projects.

The La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle Advisory Committee, Californians for Renewable Energy, and five individuals allege that the United States Department of the Interior failed to adequately consider the environmental and cultural impact of the big solar projects.

The groups contend that Native American artifacts and burial sites could be desecrated at the Ivanpah, Calico, Genesis, Blythe, Lucerne Valley, and Imperial Valley solar power projects.

The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Diego, follows a lawsuit brought by the Quechan tribe against the Interior Department for approving Tessera Solar’s 709-megawatt Imperial Valley solar power station on the Mexican border.

That project would deploy 28,369 solar dishes-each 40 feet high and 38 feet wide-on some 6,000 acres.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the start of construction until the Quechan’s claims could be heard.

The injunction was somewhat academic, as Tessera has yet to secure financing to build Imperial Valley.

But BrightSource Energy’s 370-megawatt project is already under construction and litigation could complicate efforts to finance the other projects and secure federal loan guarantees crucial to obtaining the billions of dollars needed to build the power plants.

At least the lawyers will be energized.