There is a lot of political momentum pushing these massive projects at the expense of investing in distributed generation (such as rooftop solar) which would spare our wildlands for future generations. There is certainly a need to quickly ramp up our renewable energy generation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ward off human-induced climate change. But a misguided few use this necessity to push one of the most greedy and destructive movements America's wildlands will ever see, arguably on par with the projected damage these lands are expected to experience as a result of climate change.
Dead Birds, Smashed TortoisesThe Department of Interior and the Obama administration have not conducted an honest assessment of the cumulative impacts of their renewable energy campaign, and concerned citizens are ringing the alarm already. It's not just the financial costs (a single 5.6 square mile solar facility in the Mojave Desert will receive nearly 1.6 billion dollars in taxpayer backed financing), but these large projects will be strewn about once-pristine land, and decimate already imperiled plant and wildlife populations.
The BLM reports that the proposed wind projects for California would generate 2,233 megawatts (MW). According tot he American Bird Conservancy, wind turbines can kill up to 14 birds, per MW, per year. So if all of the proposed wind projects are built in California, nearly 31,262 birds could die each year. Golden eagles, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, Le Conte's Thrasher, California Condors...anything that flies. The projects also require miles of new access roads, which fragment the surrounding habitat and etch barren paths that take generations for desert ecosystems to repair.
|This photo from Basin and Range Watch shows wide access roads carved to reach a large wind energy project in the western Mojave Desert.|
The Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert, for example, is projected to displace or kill over 160 adult tortoises, and kill hundreds of juvenile tortoises, which are harder to spot and avoid during construction. This is a testament to the high quality habitat on the site, and the poor choice made by BrightSource Energy to build on pristine desert. A separate project in the central Mojave Desert proposed by K Road Power would imperil dozens of tortoises and one of the last remaining pockets of the white-margined beardtongue, a rare desert flowering plant.
|The rare white-margined beardtongue, which can be found on public land targeted by K Road Power as the site of the proposed Calico Solar power project.|
The damage from solar energy projects would be more than just the hundreds of tortoises and other life that find themselves in the paths bulldozers. The fields of glass and metal that pave swaths of desert will industrialize and fragment entire landscapes. The projects will shrink available habitat, block wildlife corridors, use underground water aquifers, and spread invasive plant species.
And do not forget that all of these projects in the middle of our open spaces will require new transmission lines. Each one requires miles of new access roads and construction activity. The transmission towers create new hazards to birds, and scar scenic vistas.
|Multiple transmission lines scar the Antelope Valley in the western Mojave Desert. A new transmission line is being added to carry wind energy from fields of bird-killing wind turbines along the Tehachapi mountains and once undisturbed desert.|
Getting Back on the Right Path
Smarter distributed generation, such as rooftop solar, is slowly taking root, but multi-billion dollar banks and energy companies are lobbying Congress and Sacramento to clear the wrong path for large scale projects. They complain that environmental review mechanisms--the same ones we expect to prevent oil spills, carbon emissions, or extinction of plant and wildlife--are too cumbersome. Solar and wind energy companies have more in common with coal and oil than you would think--they expect tax breaks, lax regulation, and unfettered access to public land.
Feed-in-tariffs, PACE financing, and tax incentives for rooftop solar would allow a true change in how we power our homes and businesses. We could also focus on energy conservation. Turning off lights and computers, unplugging chargers, etc. Chris Clarke over at Coyote Crossing did the math on newer LED bulbs. If we replaced the 425 million incandescent bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs, we could cut energy consumption by nearly 21 gigawatts. If we can get America to reinvent itself and give the tax breaks back to the taxpayer, we might end up with more solar panels on rooftops than on public land, lower utility bills and fewer transmission lines.
|A tranquil portion of the Ivanpah Valley in the northeastern Mojave Desert--home to desert tortoises, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and rare plants--before BrightSource Energy unleashed bulldozers on the site last fall.|