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Showing posts from May, 2011

Energy Companies Take Aim at Sacred Sites in California Desert

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Chevron and Solar Millennium LLC have begun bulldozing what will ultimately be an 11 square-mile field of mirrors and steel, replacing old growth desert and ironwood washes in the Sonoran desert.  The construction is also cutting into an area considered sacred by Native Americans, with giant geoglyphs depicting deities carved into desert gravel.  The largest geoglyph near the project is of the god Kokopelli, which plays a central role in some Native American tribes' cosmological view.



The Blythe Solar power project is one of several that was "fast-tracked" by the Department of Interior for approval last year, leading to what many consider to be a hasty environmental and historical review process.  A judge halted one of those projects--the Imperial Valley solar power project--because the Department of Interior did not adequately consult with the Quechan tribe before approving the project.  Another legal challenge challenged six of the projects, including Blythe, and is pe…

Angry Birds

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Google Inc has invested 55 million dollars in a massive wind energy project in the western Mojave Desert.  The wind energy project--the Alta Wind Energy Center--will blanket the Tehachapi mountains and generate up to 1,500 megawatts of energy when it is complete.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, wind turbines can kill up to 14 birds, per megawatt, per year, and a median rate of 2.2 birds per MW, per year, according to industry estimates.  Google's investment might just kill anywhere from 3,300 to 21,000 birds, per year.  That is just a single wind energy project.  The truth about massive wind and solar energy projects is slowly coming to light as people realize that we have to sacrifice vast swaths of open space and drive some species closer to extinction.

Google should know better.  Their Mountain View, California campus is covered in rooftop solar panels.  Generating energy at the point of use.  If only Google could put its ingenuity toward a more vigorous distribut…

Have We Been Fooled by Calico Solar?

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This is the story of a solar power project that was approved by State and Federal Governments even though the energy company had no way of building it in the first place.  The representatives of the taxpayer are now being asked to turn a blind eye, once again.

Fool me once, shame on you....
Last fall the California Energy Commission (CEC) and Department of Interior approved Tessera Solar LLC's proposal to bulldoze 7 square-miles of public land for a solar power facility in the central Mojave Desert.  Both Washington and Sacramento acknowledged the significant environmental damage the project would cause to the pristine desert habitat, but rushed to approve it so Tessera Solar could qualify for over a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed stimulus funding.  The government approved the project on the basis that Tessera Solar would install thousands of SunCatcher dishes--an unproven and complicated piece of machinery.  

It turns out Tessera Solar may have misrepresented its ability to buil…

Measuring the Renewable Energy Land Grab

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One thousand square miles.  That's how much public land energy companies want to bulldoze over the next few years in California for massive solar and wind facilities, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) list of pending and approved wind testing and solar applications.   That is more than two times the size of Los Angeles, over four times the size of San Francisco, and more than 14 times the size of Washington D.C.  But what would 1,000 square miles of solar and wind projects get us? Will it stop climate change?  Not nearly.  The proposed projects would generate 13.7 gigawatts of energy.   That is less than a quarter of California's total energy generation capacity.  Building fields of glass and metal the size of the cities they are meant to power does not make sense. 

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 genera…

Solar Executives Ask for More Taxpayer Land and Money As Protesters Gather

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Protesters gathered this week outside the offices of Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, which is building the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System on public land and using nearly 1.6 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed financing.  The project is now expected to kill hundreds of adult and juvenile tortoises, according to a revised biological assessment by the Department of Interior, which has temporarily halted the project until the US Fish and Wildlife Service makes a determination on how the project should proceed.  

The protesters outside of BrightSource's corporate offices drew attention to rooftop solar, a much wiser alternative to destructive utility-scale projects that enables homeowners and businesses to invest in their own property and cut utility bills.  Solar energy industry executives, however, are more interested in receiving handouts from Washington for their destructive projects in the desert, and are planning to request even more public land and mon…

Saddleback Butte State Park

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Goldfield wildflowers, sand verbena, creosote bushes, and Joshua trees adorn Saddleback Butte State Park in the Mojave Desert.  The park is one of several desert parks that face closure according to Governor Brown's list of 70 state parks proposed for the chopping block





Loggerhead Shrike

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A loggerhead shrike perched on the branch of a creosote bush in the western Mojave Desert, where Solar Millennium proposes building the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  

Desert Calico

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A Desert Calico flower blooming on the site of Solar Millennium's proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project. The site is mostly creosote shrub habitat, with a desert wash crossing much of the area.  Biodiversity on the site is high, with desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel, loggerhead shrike, and various flowering plants.


Are Environmental Groups Acquiescing to First Solar's Desert Sunlight Project?

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The Department of Interior last month released the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for First Solar Inc's Desert Sunlight solar power project.  After a final public review of the EIS, the Department of Interior will decide whether or not to grant approval to the project.  According to the EIS, it appears that Washington will give the green light and even use taxpayers' money to finance First Solar's plans to destroy 4,176 acres (nearly 6.5 square miles) of desert habitat, including some desert tortoise critical habitat.  Although national environmental groups have been following these massive solar projects closely, they have been relatively silent about their impacts.  A First Solar representative claimed earlier this year that the company had the support of environmental organizations.  What role does such behind-the-scenes support play, and how does this impact Department of Interior's decision?

Desert Sunlight a Replay of Ivanpah?
Despite having the option…

Leave Me Alone

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A desert iguana on the site of the proposed Calico Solar power project in the central Mojave Desert, peering back at the photographer from the shade of a creosote shrub.  The habitat on the site is pristine, and hosts desert tortoise, a rare desert flowering plant known as white-margined beardtongue, and the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard.

The Calico Solar power project would be built by K Road Power, pending re-evaluation of environmental impacts by the Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission due to modifications made to the proposal.