Not So "Green"
The Governor boasted about his office's progress in approving nearly 5000 MW of renewable energy. Unfortunately, most of the utility-scale projects that his office encouraged through the California Energy Commission (CEC) permitting process will bulldoze vast swaths of pristine desert ecosystems and fragment habitat for threatened and endangered species. California's "progress" in renewable energy is dubious. By encouraging and permitting massive solar facilities on public land--instead of distributed generation or "rooftop solar"--the State will cause environmental damage similar to those of coal mines or hydro power dams. But as long as the Governor calls it "green" energy, it's worth the cost.
|The Governor's motorcade drives past protesters after he celebrated the groundbreaking for BrightSource Energy's 5.6 square miles solar facility in the Ivanpah Valley, which has already displaced over 40 desert tortoises.|
California Will Charge You for Sun DeliveryGovernor Schwarzenegger was complaining in his radio address because concerned citizens opposed his approval of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line. If the transmission line is built, California will have to deal with even more protests. The Sunrise Powerlink line will cost over $2 billion dollars to build. Hundreds of miles of expensive spooled copper, acres of undisturbed land, tons of steel, and a damaged environment -- all so California can deliver sunshine to San Diego. That cost will be added to Californians' electricity bills, just like the loan guarantees, and cash grants for the solar companies building on public land.
BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System will receive a taxpayer-backed $1.4 billion loan guarantee, and Tessera Solar LLC and First Solar Inc scrambled this year to qualify for taxpayer funded grants so that they could afford to build their industry on public land and public dime. Energy analysts have warned that utility-scale solar energy projects will lead to higher costs for ratepayers. Why? Because the technology is more expensive than the photovoltaic panels that you can place on your rooftop, and because the new solar facilities will require expensive transmission lines.
|Notice how the sunlight looks the same in this picture as it does in your backyard? Apparently California did not notice, and has to build $1 billion dollar transmission lines to bring it to your house. For the same money, we could get a lot more solar panels built in our cities and on our rooftops. Photo courtesy of Basin and Range Watch.|
Proponents of California's poor decisions--mostly those that stand to profit from the energy companies--label people that want something better than utility-scale solar and costly transmission lines as NIMBYs (not in my backyard). This is a false accusation. Unlike the flow of a river, or coal locked in a mountain, solar and wind potential exists in our backyard. Rooftop solar would actually realize the full potential of renewable energy -- the sun shines on rooftops and parking lots as much as it does in the wilderness. The reason energy companies want to shut down opponents is because their control of the profits is jeopardized by rooftop solar. The companies cannot receive multi-million dollar cash grants and public land from the taxpayers if people install energy in their backyards. In an ironic twist, big energy companies have become the NIMBY whiners.
What's New?So what is so new about California's renewable energy strategy? The State will destroy natural resources, build miles of transmission lines to deliver the same sun shine you get in your backyard, hand land and money over to private companies, and then add a line-item to your electricity bill to pay for it all. Governor Schwarzenegger calls this an "example to the nation." To add insult to injury, a 709 megawatt solar facility in the Imperial Valley that the State used as a justification for the Sunrise Powerlink may not move forward because investors are hesitant to pay for a bad idea, and the company cannot get enough grant money from Uncle Sam.
What would be a better option would be to divert the public's money back to the taxpayer, giving them tax rebates for installing rooftop solar panels and allowing them to invest in their own homes and energy sources. California could institute a "feed in tariff," a policy that pays citizens for excess energy that their solar panels generate and is fed back into the system. Feed in tariffs are credited for the creation of jobs and several gigawatts of rooftop solar in other countries. In California, we deprive taxpayers of energy independence, and created a welfare program for big solar. Next time you see an image of a transmission line or a vast solar facility in the middle of our open space, think about the lost money and opportunities, and call up the Governor's office to ask for renewable energy generation in our cities and backyards.
|Protesters rally against Governor Schwarzenegger's approval of the Sunrise Powerlink, and call for distributed generation, also known as "rooftop solar."|
|The Sunrise Powerlink will cross over miles of undisturbed wilderness, like the hills pictured here.|