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Showing posts from 2011

Take Action to Save The Desert

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Click here to sign the petition by Solar Done Right calling for a responsible renewable energy future.
We have a long history of destroying wild landscapes to generate electricity.  Oil spills killing marine life, natural gas wells fragmenting sagebrush habitat and spoiling our groundwater, and coal plants spewing emissions that warm our planet.  We are rightfully looking to renewable energy sources as a better alternative, but we cannot afford to sacrifice more wildlands to energy.  As of December, the Bureau of Land Management had received applications for wind and solar facilities on 1,659 square miles of public land in just California, and yet that would still not be enough to meet the State's energy needs. 

We need a responsible renewable energy policy that prioritizes distributed generation (e.g. rooftop solar), energy conservation, and placing the larger facilities on already-disturbed lands.

Sign the petition!

Ivanpah Conservation Initiative Presented to BLM Officials

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Basin and Range Watch members met with officials from the Bureau of Land Management's California and Nevada state offices earlier this month to present the proposed Ivanpah Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which is also supported by the Desert Tortoise Council and Desert Protective Council.  The ACEC is needed to protect biological and cultural resources that would be imperiled by additional solar energy development in the Ivanpah Valley, including a connectivity corridor for the endangered desert tortoise.  As human-induced  climate change challenges desert ecosystems, the genetic connectivity and healthy habitat offered by the Ivanpah Valley will be critical to the survival of many desert species.

The productive meeting with BLM, which took place in Reno,  represents potential reprieve for the beleaguered valley in the northeastern Mojave Desert as a coalition of smaller groups and concerned citizens speak up for a smarter renewable energy policy that does not invol…

How Much Land Will We Industrialize?

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As of December, the Bureau of Land Management had approved or received applications for utility-scale solar and wind energy facilities on 1,659 square miles of public land in California.  These projects are massive in scale, requiring tons of steel and concrete, and the bulldozing of ecologically intact lands.  Yet if all of the proposals are built they will provide less than half of California's energy demand.  Similar levels of destruction will have to take place in other states to meet their energy demand.

It is hard to imagine all of these beautiful landscapes being destroyed in the name of "green" energy, especially when we have enough rooftops, parking lots, and other brownfields in our cities to support solar panels. What would you rather find beyond coal?  Rooftop solar or industrial destruction of our landscapes?

Just how big is 1,659 square miles?  The red shaded boxes in the Google maps below each show an area 1,659 square miles in size.


View 1,659 square miles

Raw Materials: Hidden Carbon Costs of Utility-Scale Renewable Energy

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No energy source is without its impacts, but considering how much steel and concrete is needed to construct utility-scale solar and wind facilities, we may be adding more greenhouse gas emissions than necessary.   When most people in the United States think about clean energy, they picture facilities that are inherently not green -- solar facilities in the desert or gigantic wind turbines on hillsides tethered to our cities by hundreds of miles of costly transmission lines. These industrial facilities require amounts of materials and construction processes that make them unsustainable choices to replace dirty coal.  When it comes to clean energy, nothing beats the efficiency and "green" of distributed energy, such as solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots, which require less of the materials that require carbon emissions to produce and transport.

Take a look at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert, over 1…

Desert Astronomy is Unbeatable!

Not long after I started this blog I came across a photographers amazing catch of a Geminid meteor streaking across the Mojave Desert's night sky in 2009.  The photograph was taken in 2009, and can be viewed at this link.  A year later,  a videographer captured some amazing scenes of the Geminid meteor shower over America's desert landscapes, including Joshua Tree National Park.

Enjoy:

Fleeting Light: The High Desert and the Geminid Meteor Shower from Henry Jun Wah Lee on Vimeo.

BLM Continues Review of Searchlight Wind Project

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The BLM later this month may release a preliminary environmental impact review for Duke Energy's proposed wind project near Searchlight, Nevada, according to Basin and Range Watch.  The project's monstrous proportions would industrialize 38 square miles of desert landscapes with up to 140 wind turbines.  Each turbine would be over 400 feet tall -- that is over 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.  The turbines would pose a threat to hawks, eagles and other bird life in the area, and would require miles of new roads etched into the valleys and hillsides.   You can find beautiful photos of the area, including wildlife and landscapes, at this website put up by Basin and Range Watch.

The amount of land that will be transformed by the project is difficult to fathom.  The Google Earth image below shows an overlay of the proposed project footprint on Las Vegas.  If the same project were built in Las Vegas, it would stretch from McCarran International Airport in the south to Nor…

Photos of Solar Done Wrong

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Despite a UCLA study indicating that the County of Los Angeles has enough suitable rooftop space for solar panels to meet local energy demand, the State of California and Bureau of Land Management are permitting unprecedented destruction of America's desert landscapes for utility-scale solar facilities hundreds of miles away from urban areas.   One of those projects is First Solar's Desert Sunlight facility that will cover nearly 6 square miles of ecologically intact public lands right next to Joshua Tree National Park.

The Desert Sunlight project would generate about 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity.  For comparison, California's peak electricity demand has reached nearly 52,800 MW.  Meeting our energy needs with projects like Desert Sunlight would require over 100 more of such destructive facilities. And then repeat this destruction in every other state to meet their energy demands.  This is madness and simply unsustainable.

Author Chris Clarke recently had the opportuni…

A Story of Love and Disappointment

John Muir, frustrated by plans in the early 1900s to inundate a beautiful valley for a large reservoir far from its future customers in San Francisco, warned that people were susceptible to view nature as a resource to be plundered, instead of something to be cherished:
"...robbers of every degree from Satan to Senators, city supervisors, lumbermen, cattlemen, farmers, etc., trying to make everything dollarable, oftentimes disguised in smiles and philanthropy, calling their plundering "utilization of natural beneficent resources," that man and beast may be fed and the Nation allowed to grow great."John Muir would ultimately be disappointed when close friends he once counted as allies betrayed him and permitted the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley to become a reservoir. His friend Andrew Carnegie said:
"John Muir is a fine Scotchman...but for all that it is too foolish to say that the imperative needs of a city to a full and pure water supply should be thwarted for …

The Luxury of Thinking Locally

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I have never met Carl Zichella of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), but I'm sure he has a history of standing up for what's right for our environment.  But after reading the Desert Sun article on the Department of Interior's plans to allow solar energy companies to bulldoze hundreds of square miles of desert wildlands, I'm convinced Mr. Zichella got lost somewhere on his journey.

In a comment meant to belittle concerned citizens and defend renewable energy companies that are destroying our desert landscapes,  NRDC's Mr. Zichella said the following:
“There is no impact free energy source,” he said “We need to look at the best sites regardless of ownership.We don't have the luxury of looking at this from a local perspective. Ignoring the best resource areas in the world is not a way to show leadership.”We don't have the luxury of looking at this from a local perspective, he says.  I know he's talking about the urgent need to reduce global gre…

Big Solar Seeks Path of Least Resistance

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) on 14 December will meet to consider a proposed decision that would allow solar companies to select whether to submit to local or State (CEC) review when building large photovoltaic solar facilities on public land.  This is important in the near term particularly for the Ridgecrest Solar power project, a proposed facility that would decimate a Mohave ground squirrel connectivity corridor and a robust desert tortoise population.  In the long term, the rule change would give big solar companies the ability to choose what they think will be the path of least resistance to build projects that destroy vast swaths of public land.    Although the CEC has previously opposed the Ridgecrest project, it's approval of several other projects has earned it a reputation as the place where solar companies go for fast-track approval that often ignores environmental and cultural destruction.  It's this reputation that makes people nervous about a regulatio…

Elden Hughes

The Los Angeles Times published an article on the passing of long time desert conservationist Elden Hughes.  He worked with others in the Sierra Club to advocate for the California Desert Protection Act in the early nineties, and supported the Wildlands Conservancy's purchase and protection of hundreds of thousands of acres in the Mojave Desert, which are now at the center of new desert legislation.  More recently he brought attention to the destruction of desert habitat by large solar facilities.  Mr. Hughes spoke up against BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.  He was no stranger to Ivanpah.  In 1998 he brought attention to destructive plans to build an airport in the remote desert valley to serve the ever-expanding Las Vegas.

I never got to meet Mr. Hughes, but I feel humbled by his tenacity and commitment to desert conservation.   I'm feeling grateful for the efforts of Elden Hughes and others over the years to protect our desert wildlands.  …

Images of Desert Sunlight Project Don't Lie

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The news website MyDesert.com posted a video tour of First Solar's Desert Sunlight project under construction.  Once the project is finished, nearly 6 square miles of creosote bush scrub habitat for desert tortoises, kit fox, burrowing owls, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard will be destroyed just outside Joshua Tree National Park.  The Sierra Club and other national environmental organizations approved of the project, even though the photovoltaic solar panel technology could have been installed on rooftops or already-disturbed land without destroying wildlands.

Although the First Solar employee interviewed in the video feeds company talking points to the reporter, the images in the background cannot lie.  What was once ecologically intact desert on public lands has been bulldozed and flattened.   Here are some of the screenshots from the MyDesert.com video, with the video embedded below.  The pictures show thousands of steel poles drilled into the ground. The loss of topsoil and nati…

Update on the California Desert Protection Act of 2011

With over 1,000 square miles of destructive renewable energy projects proposed for public lands in California -- mostly in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts -- the California Desert Protection Act of 2011 (CDPA 2011, S.138) appears to be the most extensive proposal to spare desert lands from the prospect of unnecessary industrial development.   Senator Dianne Feinstein actually first proposed the legislation in 2010, but Congress was mired in protracted debate on other issues that year, including health care legislation and last minute deals to put in place a stop-gap budget deal.  Feinstein reintroduced CDPA in January this year, but we are days away from the end of another legislative calendar and the bill still has not moved beyond the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Congress is still deadlocked on spending issues.

For perspective, it took two years for Feinstein to get her last desert protection bill passed, which was signed in October 1994, and that was with …

Energy for the 99%

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Tomorrow is 20 November.  A community group called Solar Mosaic declared 20 November as Occupy Rooftops day.  Meaning, find the rooftop of a building in your community where you would like to see rooftop solar, take a picture and send it to Solar Mosaic.  The organization has already used "crowdfunding" to install solar on the rooftop of a community building in Oakland, and is now raising community investment to install solar on other buildings in Oakland and Flagstaff. (I sponsored a solar tile at an Oakland-based food justice organization).

Solar Mosaic is a small slice of the rooftop solar pie, but one that is emblematic of how distributed generation -- also known as local clean energy -- can cut greenhouse gasses without asking giant utility companies to devastate desert habitat or mountaintops for big solar and wind projects that are hundreds of miles away from our cities.

There is room for utility-scale solar on already-disturbed lands (minimizing ecological destruction…

Environmentalism for the 1%

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The departure of the Sierra Club's chairman -- Carl Pope -- comes during a dark moment for environmentalism.  The vanguards of the green movement have compromised their core conservation ethic, forging alliances with corporations and ignoring the grassroots in order to make way for an unchecked renewable energy industry that is more intent on destroying public lands than saving them.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlights how Pope may be a casualty of this attempt to gain influence in Washington and Wall Street, but his approach has been practiced by other national environmental groups,  including the Wilderness Society, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.  These groups have desperately sought acceptance among business and political elites, painting themselves as job creators by selling out America's landscapes to big wind and solar firms, and then bragging about the jobs they have supported.  What have they gained? Loss of respect among th…

Policy for Rooftop Solar, Not Desert Destruction

An excellent op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee explains what California should do to encourage rooftop solar and other forms of local clean energy.  At the heart of the debate is the San Diego Gas & Electric company's proposal to charge rooftop solar owners a superfluous "transmission" charge.  You can think of this as equivalent to Bank of America's ridiculous plan to charge its customers $5 a month to use their debit cards. 

Solar technology makes utility companies seem as outdated as record companies and paperback book publishers in an age of MP3s and Amazon Kindles.  Even Bloomberg agrees. Solar gives everyone the opportunity to generate their own energy.  No need to bulldoze deserts for solar facilities.  No need to install wind turbines on beautiful mountains.  No need to blast open mountains in West Virginia for coal.  It's time that the California Public Utilities Commission appreciate the true value of rooftop solar.

According to the Sacramento Be…

Western Mojave Offers Warning on Wind Energy Impacts

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Several wind energy projects are in the early phases of planning and development throughout the Mojave Desert, including Granite Wind in the Victor Valley and Black Lava Butte near Joshua Tree National Park.  Citizens and conservationists that care for their way of life and land may want to pay attention to what is happening to the desert habitat near Tehachapi and the town of Mojave, California.  Terra-Gen Power LLC is installing over 300 wind turbines -- each nearly 30 stories in height -- across ecologically intact desert lands. The project is known as the Alta Wind Energy Center

Friends of Mojave, a group of concerned citizens, formed to raise awareness about the impacts of the projects on the once quiet rural lifestyle and beautiful desert landscapes.  They have documented the destruction with the photos below:
Wind turbines pose a serious threat to birds and bats once in operation, and wind farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have killed thousands of birds and bats.  The nearb…

Vermont Wind Facility A Perfect Example of Greenwashing

Wind turbines are not green, and the video below shows the ugly side to this utility-scale energy behemoth that is altering thousands of square miles across the country.  Not only do they require massive amounts of steel to produce, they are transported by diesel guzzling trucks for hundreds of miles, tons of concrete is needed to pour their foundations, and wide access roads are bulldozed into the land and mountain ridges where they are installed.  Once the blades are spinning, they become a huge threat to rare wildlife, such as golden eagles, hawks, owls, bats, sandhill cranes, etc.  Research indicates that at least 440,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines, and that number is expected to climb to 1,000,000 per year by 2030 as more wind facilities are constructed.

The video below shows scenes of destruction in Vermont as a mountain ridgeline is blasted away to make way for wind turbines.

This is Green Energy? from Catamount on Vimeo.

But most big environmental organizations …

Signing off on Desert Destruction

Before BrightSource Energy could begin bulldozing 5.6 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, Secretary of Interior had to sign a record of decision approving the project's use of public land and resources.  Department of Interior ignored its responsibility to act as a responsible steward of public lands, and instead catered to BrightSource Energy's desire to build the project on some of the most important habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, despite calls for the government agency and solar company to consider alternative locations.  Your government knew this was the case, but approved the energy facility anyways.

According to a July 2010 analysis by the Department of Interior preceding Salazar's decision obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request:
"Although the proposed project would achieve all project objectives, and generate the maximum amount of beneficial socioeconomic, greenhouse gas, and air pollutant impacts, it would also result…

Occupy Rooftops!

Thousands of protesters plan to encircle the White House this weekend to speak up against the destructive Keystone pipeline, which would pump hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands oil into the US from Canada. Opposition to the Keystone pipeline echoes themes in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which opposes the government's catering to the needs of Corporations at the expense of the public's well-being.  The truest form of energy independence -- loosening the grip of massive utility companies and Wall Street backed energy firms -- comes in the form of distributed generation, such as rooftop solar.  And Solar Mosaic, an innovative marketplace that brings community donations to local solar installations, is sponsoring Community Solar Day on 20 November, asking communities to identity rooftops they want to occupy with solar panels.

From the southwestern desert perspective, Community Solar Day is representative of a clean energy future that does not involve sacrificing publ…