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Showing posts from June, 2011

New Research Describes Two Distinct Species of Desert Tortoise

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It has been 150 years since scientists officially described the desert tortoise as a species.  However, new research published this month indicates that we have actually been sharing the desert with at least two genetically distinct species of the desert tortoise.  Historically, many biologists and wildlife officials assumed the desert tortoise constituted a single species spanning the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in the US and Mexico.  The new research describes genetic, behavioral and physical differences that distinguish the two species of desert tortoise.   According to the research by Robert W. Murphy and Kristin H. Berry, among other scientists, the population of desert tortoise east of the Colorado River (Gopherus morafkai) is genetically distinct from the population to the west (Gopherus agassizii). 

The recognition of the two distinct species means that the "Mojave" population (Gopherus agassizii) is actually much more imperiled and occupies a smaller range than previ…

Feds Coming Around to Rooftop Solar?

The White House may not have solar panels on the roof yet, but the Department of Energy last week finally approved financing for a plan to install solar panels on industrial warehouses to generate up to 733 megawatts of renewable energy.  The 1.4 billion dollar taxpayer-backed loan is expected to generate one thousand jobs over a four year period. 

More importantly, the money will not be used to destroy pristine public land in America's southwestern deserts.  The Department of Energy has approved other loans for the destructive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System and the Blythe Solar power projects, which will destroy over 16 square miles of desert habitat and Native American cultural sites.  So, in contrast, the rooftop solar financing seems like a win-win situation.  We can cut down pollution, create truly local jobs (not construction jobs in the middle of the desert), and utilize the untapped potential of rooftops to meet our energy needs.

Solar the Right Way...

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In a blog post titled "Every Rooftop Matters," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune explains the important role rooftop solar will play in cutting down harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  The Club's efforts to promote distributed generation are a welcome development given the troubling plans by some energy companies to bulldoze hundreds of square miles of pristine desert for remote projects.  Two of the massive projects have already begun construction, displacing hundreds of threatened desert tortoises and destroying Native American sacred sites.

In separate news, Google announced its investment of 280 million dollars in SolarCity, a rooftop solar business.  The investment could create 7,000-9,000 solar roofs. The announcement comes on the heels of Google's less appealing investments in the destructive Ivanpah Solar energy project (pictured below) and the Alta Wind Energy Center, a wind project that could result in at least 3,000 bird collisions each year.

Calico Solar Right of Way In Jeopardy

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Last month I wrote about the Calico Solar power project because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted Tessera Solar LLC permission to build a solar facility on pristine desert that Tessera never had the capacity to build in the first place, according to information put forward in legal proceedings.  Tessera Solar then sold its permission to build on 7 square miles of public land--called a "right-of-way" grant (ROW)--to a company called K Road Sun.  The BLM now considers the Calico Solar ROW to be "inoperative," and will not allow construction to proceed on the pristine desert until a new environmental analysis is completed, according to information provided by the BLM to the US District Court on 6 June.

K Road Sun modified Tessera Solar's original plans to include a different mix of solar technology, but still planned to use Tessera's "SunCatcher" dishes.  The SunCatcher technology is a major sticking point --if the SunCatchers cannot be mass…

Your tax dollars at work...

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Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar and California Governor Jerry Brown stand with executives from German firm Solar Millennium during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Blythe Solar power project.  Even though Solar Millennium's board is under investigation for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement, Mr. Salazar ok'd the project and over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and grants for the company.  Initial stages of construction have also destroyed part of a Native American sacred site.

According to the Department of Interior, these massive solar power projects on public land are called the "New Energy Frontier" --seems like just another version of corporate greed, scandal and disrespect for the public's land and money.   Perhaps they are ignoring the real energy frontier-- the untapped potential of rooftop solar, which energy experts assess can meet much of our energy demand in the southwest without sacrificing public land.

Ridgecrest Site Still Targeted by Solar Millennium

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According to information obtained by Basin and Range Watch, the German energy firm Solar Millennium LLC and its US front company, "Solar Trust of America," are proposing a reconfigured facility for the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  The new site would use all photovoltaic panels, instead of thermal solar technology.  Check out the Basin and Range Watch update here.

The facility was opposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff last year because the site chosen by Solar Millennium would cut off a Mohave ground squirrel corridor and destroy a robust desert tortoise population.   The company's board is currently being investigated for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement in Germany, but the US government is moving forward and issuing the company over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and 18 million dollars in grants for the Blythe solar power project.

Scandal-Plagued Company Holding Ceremony; Governor and Salazar to Attend

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German company Solar Millennium LLC and its American front "Solar Trust of America" are holding a groundbreaking ceremony for the Blythe Solar power project tomorrow, which California Governor Jerry Brown and Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar plan to attend.  Their attendance is surprising since the 11 square mile project is under scrutiny for financial misconduct and destruction of sacred Native American sites.  

Germany began investigating Solar Millennium after uncovering reports that an executive was paid 9 million Euros (about 12.5 million dollars) after working only 74 days at the company, and other board members are under investigation for embezzlement.  Despite the scandal, Solar Millennium's project is still on track to receive over 2.1 billion dollars in loans and an 18 million dollar grant from the Federal government (courtesy of the taxpayer).

Solar Millennium began initial construction on the site earlier this year, destroying some sacred geoglyphs (rock …

BLM Lifts Hold on Ivanpah Construction but Hurdles Loom

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lifted a stop-work order on BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System last week, but a legal challenge still hovers over the solar project.  BLM halted work on most of the site in April after new estimates showed that the project could kill or displace hundreds of tortoises on the 5.6 square mile site and adjacent lands.  According to government documents:
"We anticipate that construction of the [Ivanpah] project site is likely to take, in the form of mortality or injury, between 405 and 1136 desert tortoises... We anticipate that the vast majority of these will be individuals of smaller size or desert tortoise eggs that are difficult to detect during clearance surveys and construction monitoring; therefore, we are unlikely to find carcasses of these individuals."
After reissuing the biological opinion, the BLM determined that despite the project tortoise deaths, the project will not "jeopardize" the threate…

Feds Balk at $125 Tortoise Website; Spend Billions to Kill Tortoises

As I wrote about yesterday, the White House announced its Campaign to Cut Waste and highlighted the DesertTortoise.gov website as a prime example of the sort of "waste" the government hopes to eliminate.  Chris Clarke over at Coyote Crossing learned from someone familiar with the website that it costs approximately 125 dollars, and a few hours of labor to upload new information each year.  The site received 49,000 visitors from January through April this year.  That's less than a penny per visitor, and we can expect tens of thousands of more visitors by the end of the year.  Also, the White House apparently did not bother giving the wildlife officials that maintain the website (as one of their many tasks) any advance notice that they would target the effort as an example of "waste."

So the White House does not want to spend 125 dollars a year to educate tens of thousands of people about the best way to share an environment with a threatened species, but the Whi…

White House Wants to Crush Tortoise Website

The Obama Administration launched its Campaign to Cut Waste today and, among other things, singled out the DesertTortoise.gov website as an example of "waste."   Cutting government waste is an admirable task.  But we should not slash with abandon and end up cutting what could be the most cost-effective form of government transparency and education.  The White House's decision to highlight the tortoise website as an example raises questions about their criteria for defining "waste."

There are certainly examples of unnecessary government websites. One of the examples given was the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (the Centennial was in 2003).  Information on aviation history is highly available on other websites, school libraries, and television.  Shutting down the Centennial website is unlikely to deprive the American public of a critical source of information on this topic.

But is the DesertTortoise.gov website a waste?  The tortoise is a threatene…

Sierra Club Steadfast Against Destructive Calico Solar

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The Sierra Club asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to halt its review of K Road Sun's revised proposal to build the Calico Solar power project, but the CEC dismissed the Club's challenge.  The project will destroy nearly 7 square miles of pristine desert on public land, and displace or kill many rare plant and wildlife species.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the CEC permitted the Calico Solar power project under a different owner last year, even though that company did not even have the financial or technical ability to build the project.  The new company, K Road Sun, is also of dubious pedigree, and is rushing the CEC for approval so that it can receive loans and grants from the taxpayer.
The Sierra Club told the The Sun newspaper:
"The Sierra Club is very much in favor of renewable energy but this is a bad location ...," adding that the area is "important habitat for the desert tortoise and the big horn sheep." The Sierra Club is not alone …

Two Reports Highlight Ecological Importance of Ivanpah Valley

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Two separate reports from the Nature Conservancy and the Renewable Energy Action Team indicate that the Ivanpah Valley is important to the ecological health of the Mojave Desert, suggesting the area is not suitable for destructive solar facilities.  The Ivanpah Valley is currently the focus of concerned citizens since at least three massive solar facilities could destroy over 20 square miles of pristine desert in the area, and displace or kill hundreds of endangered desert tortoises.  Many argue that rooftop solar installations--not remote facilities on public land--should be the centerpiece of renewable energy policy.
Solar facilities targeting the Ivanpah Valley:
Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System: Under construction by BrightSource Energy LLC, NRG, and Bechtel, with financing from Google. (5.6 square miles)Stateline Solar power project: Proposed by First Solar LLC (3.4 square miles)Silver State North and South: Proposed by First Solar LLC. BLM approved a portion of the project. …

Progress for the Lane Mountain Milkvetch

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I wrote about the efforts to designate critical habitat for the Lane Mountain Milkvetch (Astragalus jaegerianus) in an earlier blog post.  In a success due largely to the efforts of the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed its final ruling last month declaring over 14,000 acres as protected land for the rare plant.
The primary opponents of the critical habitat designation were some off-highway vehicle (OHV) users who complained that the new protected status would deprive them of recreational activities.   However, thousands of miles of open routes remain available to OHV users on public land, in addition to the El Mirage, Stoddard Wells, and Johnson Valley Off-highway vehicle areas.

Destruction of Ivanpah Valley

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Bechtel, one of the investors in BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, released photos of the project construction.  Remember, the photographs so far only show about a fraction of the total proposed project since phases 2 and 3 were halted by the Bureau of Land Management since the project's impact on the endangered desert tortoise are much higher than expected.  A revised biological assessment indicates that as many as 162 adult tortoises may be displaced or killed, and hundreds of smaller juvenile tortoises could be killed.

This photo was obtained by GreentechSolar from Becthel's website:

Becthel is partnering with BrightSource and energy firm "NRG" to build the Ivanpah Solar site.  Ironically, Bechtel was also a partner in the construction of the Hoover Dam, which submerged 247 square miles of America's southwest in 1936 to quench our energy thirst.  What a shame that we have the opportunity to avoid destroying public land by cho…

Angry Birds in Northern California

Following up on a previous post regarding Google's plans to invest millions of dollars in a massive field of wind turbines in the western Mojave Desert, the Los Angeles Times ran a great article today on the dangers of poorly sited wind energy facilities on birds. Google's wind energy projects is one of several proposed for the Mojave Desert, and are expected to have similar impacts as the Altamont Pass project featured in the LA Times article.   A video accompanied the article and is also embedded below.

Is Washington Creating a Big Solar Bubble?

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We all know what happened when Wall Street and Washington both looked the other way in the name of corporate profit as banks and insurers inflated housing prices, and encouraged unstable investments.  But will Americans be stuck with the cost of another over-hyped investment?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has smoothed the way to permit hundreds of square miles of solar energy facilities on public land in America's southwestern deserts.   In California alone there were 20 solar applications in line for public land, totaling over 200 square miles.  The Obama administration asked the BLM to work with the Department of Energy (DOE) to decide which projects can receive taxpayer-backed financing and grants.  Massive solar projects have already been approved for over 4 billion dollars in government loans, and millions of dollars in cash grants.
A subsidiary of energy firm "NRG" was awarded over 18 million dollars in grants (free cash), and 2.1 billion dollars of taxpayer-b…

Sun Bath

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No Free Lunch...

...Unless you are a solar company. 

A quote by the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) land program in USA Today does not sound like it came from a conservation organization.
"There's no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs," she said. "To get energy, we need to do things that will have impacts."She was encouraging fellow environmentalists not to worry about the negative impacts of the Obama administration's renewable energy policy, which will destroy thousands of square miles of wildlands.  I'm sure coal and oil executives have used the same "no free lunch" argument about offshore drilling, mountaintop removal mining, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Yes.  Everything we do will have impacts.  But aren't we supposed to try to minimize those impacts? Isn't that what "environmental organizations have been saying for decades? I would have expected a more sophisticated stateme…