Finding a location for industrial growth in the Mojave that provides the most public benefit with the least impact is always the key challenge, and one discussed in other postings on Mojave Desert Blog. It's unfortunate, then, that the Beacon Solar Energy Project proposed near California City in the Northwestern Mojave is running into a seemingly obvious hurdle. The project's proposed site is perfect from a biological standpoint -- the land was previously used for agriculture and has little value as habitat. Developing this land (approximately 2,000 acres) would not deprive endangered species of key habitat but would provide up to 250 MW of renewable energy.
So what's the hold-up? Water. The developers want to used cooling technology that requires vast amounts of water. If built as proposed, the California Energy Commission estimates that the solar project would use 1400 acre feet per year, which is equivalent to about 456 million gallons.
Ironically, other solar energy developers looking to build in the Mojave Desert are applying dry cooling technology, but unfortunately chose more ecologically sensitive land. Dry cooling technology in solar plants is more expensive because it requires that the power plant divert some of the produced energy to run the dry cooling process (basically fans that cool the liquids heated up during the solar process), but saves millions of gallons of water. The developers for the Beacon Solar project near California City should either switch to dry cooling or give up the land -- which is prime solar development land-- for another developer to consider.