Saturday, July 23, 2011

Governor Brown Misses the Point on Ivanpah

California Governor Jerry Brown's office filed a legal brief supporting the destructive Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  The legal brief was filed in response to a lawsuit from Western Watersheds Project seeking to halt construction of the Ivanpah project on the grounds that the Federal government conducted a faulty and hasty environmental review.  Since construction began, it has become clear that the earlier environmental review conducted by California and the Feds vastly underestimated the number of endangered desert tortoises on the project site.

Although the Governor is also seeking to increase distributed generation (e.g. rooftop solar), his support for one of the most environmentally destructive solar projects suggests his office does not understand the poor precedent set by the Ivanpah project in destroying pristine desert instead of siting such projects on already-disturbed lands

According to the Governor's legal brief, "the public's interest here is in the success of responsibly sited renewable energy resources." (emphasis added)  What is so responsible about the siting of the Ivanpah project on pristine public land with an exceptionally biodiverse array of plant and wildlife?  In its ecological assessment of the Mojave Desert, the Nature Conservancy identified the Ivanpah Valley as biologically core, and integral to the ecological health of California's deserts.

The word "transformation" is used in the Governor's legal brief as a euphemism for irresponsible sited destructive solar projects.  He ignores the 30,000 acres of empty and disturbed lands offered by the Westlands Solar Park, and the thousands of acres of disturbed lands offered by the EPA's RE-powering America's Lands Program.
The Governor's brief also proclaims that the Ivanpah project is an "important part of California's overall efforts to transform its energy future."  For crying out loud, scientists have found ways to print solar cells on paper and fabric (see cool videos here), and Germany has installed several gigawatts of distributed generation, far outpacing California.  What is so transformational about steel and glass replacing pristine wildlands as is happening at Ivanpah?  That is the energy model we have been following for decades.  It's time to get serious about distributed generation and, when we do build large scale solar facilities, put them on lands that are already disturbed, such as 30,000 acres of disturbed land in central California (see here) or any of the thousands of acres identified by the EPA's RE-powering America's Lands program.

We need to increase renewable energy generation, but let's face it, the Ivanpah solar project embodies the worst qualities in energy generation that we are seeking to escape from in coal, oil and gas: corporate greed, government waste, and ecological destruction.  Solar is a flexible technology; there is no need to lose more precious natural resources for the sake of a technology that works even more efficiently when it's right in our backyard or on our rooftops.

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