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Showing posts from 2012

Small Solar Adds Up

The Los Angeles Times published a great article this weekend explaining the virtues of smaller distributed solar generation on rooftops and on disturbed lands in our cities. Distributed generation is a cheaper clean energy solution for ratepayers than big solar on remote desert wildlands, saving money and the climate. We can overcome roadblocks to more wide scale deployment of solar on rooftops and in our cities by cutting administrative red tape at the local level, and encouraging Washington to lift the Federal Housing Finance Agency's hold on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which would allow homeowners to finance rooftop solar through their own propert tax assessments.

As the LA Times explains, utility companies profit from the large and destructive desert solar plants, which is why they have opposed efforts to encourage solar in our cities by blocking legislation that could make rooftop solar more accessible to residents and small businesses:
Built in far-flung locations …

Shrinking Silver State South

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As I mentioned in a previous post, First Solar's application to build the Silver State South solar project on public land in the Ivanpah Valley does not add up.  Southern California Edison only wants to buy 250 megawatts (MW) of energy from the facility, and provided a large generator interconnection agreement (permission to use transmission lines) for 230MW, yet First Solar asked BLM for permission to build a 350 MW facility. That is at least 100 MW of solar facility that may not even be economically feasible.

The math means a lot because the Silver State South project would be built at one of the narrowest points of the Ivanpah Valley, which serves as an important habitat linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  A bigger solar facility equates to a narrower (or non-existent) habitat linkage.  A weak or non-existent habitat linkage means this species may lose genetic diversity and resilience needed to face continuing threats to its recovery, including disease, habitat loss, …

Cost of Coal

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The Sierra Club launched its Cost of Coal campaign, taking a look at the toll of this fossil fuel on our communities and ecosystems.  One of the videos features Kami Miller, who lives in the northeastern Mojave Desert town of Moapa, Nevada in the shadow of the Reid Gardner Coal plant.  A study by the Sierra Club earlier this year found that energy efficiency investments by the utility company -- NV Energy -- would allow them to shut down all four coal burners at Reid Gardner, and save customers $59 million over 20 years.  Efficiency, distributed generation, and larger solar facilities on already-disturbed land can responsibly and sustainably break our addiction to coal.

BLM Takes Another Piecemeal Step in Ivanpah

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late November issued the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for First Solar's Stateline Solar power project, only a month after issuing the Silver State South Solar DEIS -- both projects would be built in the Ivanpah Valley.  The BLM's draft documents lay out a plan allowing First Solar to bulldoze approximately 8 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, but fails to present a credible conservation strategy and overlooks other major developments on the horizon in this corner of the Mojave Desert.

The BLM only proposes token conservation measures in the documents --  establishing an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC) that arguably does not even preserve habitat connectivity for the Federally-listed desert tortoise (see my last post), and an extension of a desert wildlife management area (DWMA).  Both land use changes provide substantial carve-outs for the ill-sited solar projects, rendering the conservation…

Desert Paparazzi

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A horned lizard mugs for a close-up photo.

BrightSource Energy Distorting Reality

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BrightSource Energy recently submitted another petition to change conditions of certification set forth by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--which spell out what steps the company must take to  make up for ecological damage caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project.  This time BrightSource is seeking to take advantage of a desert habitat conservation program administered by the California Department of Fish and Game, probably because the company is unable to secure quality desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley area.

In its petition to the CEC, BrightSource Energy argues that conserving habitat in the Ivanpah Valley is not worthwhile because human development has limited the value of the area to serve as desert tortoise connectivity.  BrightSource, however, has a record that disqualifies it from making authoritative statements on wildlife issues.
Firstly, the company ignored wildlife biologists and built a 5.6 square mile industrial facility on prime desert tortois…

Prickly Poppy

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A prickly poppy in bloom in the central Mojave Desert.  Plenty of spikes, but a beautiful sight, nonetheless.

Climate Hawk Misses the Mark

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A fellow climate change activist -- who goes by "RLMiller" on the Twitter -- recently nominated a Los Angeles Times reporter as the "most anti-solar reporter in the mainstream media" in a blog post on the Daily Kos (RLMiller previously levied this criticism against a more deserving recipient -- Fox News).  The offending reporter, Julie Cart, published an article on how industrial-scale solar facilities built dozens of miles from the nearest county services, impose a financial burden on local governments.  Not only do the counties need to deploy new resources to emergencies (fire, police, medical) where they do not normally occur, they also have to accommodate heavy construction traffic on crumbling roads, increased water consumption where water is scarce, and then tell longtime taxpayers, voters, and residents that they have to put up with a giant, Wall Street-backed industrial behemoth next door that does not conform to the county's original zoning rules.

The …

Arizona and the Rooftop Revolution

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The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) -- the body responsible for rate adjustments for utility companies in Arizona -- was presented a report by its staff last month that recommended a paradigm shift in how it meets its renewable energy goal of 15% by 2025.  The ACC staff report recommends that Arizona meet its renewable energy needs with stepped-up investment in rooftop solar, which the ACC staff judges to be the lowest cost renewable energy option because distributed generation does not require expensive new transmission lines and centralized power plants.  The recognition of rooftop solar's value is a positive sign for our southwestern deserts, which are threatened by both climate change and industrial sprawl from large-scale solar and wind facilities.

Arizonans have an appetite for local clean energy, and the ACC staff recommendation would ensure that ratepayers' money goes back to the community in the form of incentives for customers to install solar panels.  Arizona ha…

Thankful for Wild Places

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I'm thankful for clean air and water, and beautiful wildlands where the next greatest thing is not a new iPad or video game, but nature's gift -- a wildflower blooming after winter rains, shadows cast by the sun setting behind desert ridgelines, a coyote's howl, a night sky full of stars...


...Happy Thanksgiving.

Big Victory for Wildlands

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Patriot coal announced this week that it was stepping away from mountaintop removal in Appalachia.  Although a far distance from America's southwestern deserts, industrial-scale energy development is a familiar threat to conservationists whether you live in West Virginia or California.
The Patriot Coal announcement is the result of sustained pressure from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, and West Virgnia Highlands Conservancy. Patriot is one of the three largest mountaintop coal mining companies, so its announcement is a reason to celebrate, although there is more work to be done to save the wildlands of Appalachia from other coal companies and industrial-scale wind.  The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups involved in pressuring Patriot Coal, is also fighting to save the region's ridgelines from industrial-scale wind, which has destroyed viewsheds, fragmented habitat, and has begun to take a severe toll on the area's bird and bat po…

Five Reasons to Let the Wind PTC Expire, And Reinvest in Solar and Efficiency

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The Production Tax Credit (PTC) -- a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit for wind energy corporations -- is set to expire at the end of 2012, and a bevy of corporations and environmental organizations are calling on Congress to renew it immediately.  The tax break costs $1 billion dollars a year, which is much smaller than the subsidies Congress is giving to the fossil fuel industry, but has still drawn opposition from Congress and, of course, the fossil fuel industry.

We should oppose the Wind PTC, but for much different reasons than those put forward by its traditional opponents.  The bottom line is that wind energy does not meet even a modest "green" standard, and we should be putting our money to much more sustainable energy generators.  Our energy choices (mistakes?) so far have ensured that we will feel the effects of climate change for hundreds of years -- rushing to deploy a destructive and subpar "bridge" technology will only cost us more in the long r…

Powerful Change in a Small Package

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I wrote last week about Utah-based Goal Zero's efforts to bring solar power chargers to victims of Hurricane Sandy, giving folks the ability to run essential appliances and lights as they wait for utility companies to rebuild a vast and vulnerable electricity grid.  The company has a "one for one" relief effort.  For every solar device purchased through its online store or participating retailers (including Amazon), they will donate a kit to Sandy relief victims.  As of late last week, the company had already lined up about 2,500 donated kits for victims of Sandy.

The Goal Zero products range in size -- from units that can charge cell phones, to larger kits that can keep a refrigerator running -- but the impact is always powerful.  For people that are without electricity, being able to count on a sustainable light supply can make a world of difference. Obviously solar charging kits are not going to replace the grid, but I hope they turn out to be a gateway drug …

Disentangling Urgency from Foolishness: Exposing the Climate-Terror Paradigm

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After 11 September 2001 the country recognized an urgent threat to its security.  The debate prompted by this tragic event is still relevant even after three Presidential elections and eleven years -- how much of our civil liberty do we sacrifice to mitigate this threat?  Military tribunals, library records, torture, and transparency.  We are still questioning compromises of justice and privacy for the end state of security.  This debate will last for centuries, much like the threat.
"Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."  - Benjamin Franklin Are we making a foolish sacrifice to mitigate the threat of climate change? Rising seas, extreme and destructive weather patterns, lives lost, property destroyed, and degraded ecosystems.  Climate change is an urgent threat. The toxic cocktail of carbon and other poisons that we have already spewed into the atmosphere has created a climate that will punish us for decades, according to climate expert Bill McKibben, e…

Time for a Real Energy Policy

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The election is over.  It's time for our country's leaders to implement a real energy policy that  generates clean power through rooftop solar, or other renewable energy facilities on already-disturbed lands.  The "all of the above" policy endorsed by the previous two Presidents has not been successful in combating climate change or protecting our wildlands, as we have seen with the landscape destruction wrought by fossil fuels and industrial-scale wind and solar.  We have a serious opportunity to revolutionize the way we use and generate energy -- we can make our homes and businesses more energy efficient, while using the untapped space in our cities for solar panels.

The policy tools are in place, or waiting for implementation.  EPA's RE-powering America's Land initiative that guides energy companies to build projects on already-disturbed lands (instead of pristine desert habitat), feed-in-tariffs that reimburse rooftop solar operators for excess energy th…

Goal Zero and Hurricane Relief Efforts

Goal Zero, a company that sells portable solar chargers for household electronic devices, has jumped into the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, driving a Penske rental van full of their products to New Jersey and New York to provide solar power to relief centers and citizens in need.  While utility companies are struggling to untangle the mess of substations and downed transmission lines in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, thousands of people are left without the energy we have taken for granted to run everything from our cell phones to medical devices.  One thing is for sure, even without the more frequent weather extremes brought on by climate change (which Hurricane Sandy may, or may not be a result of...see Andy Revkin's post), we need to create a cleaner, and more resilient energy supply.

From Goal Zero's blog post:
"We first showed up to the FEMA location to meet up with Team Rubicon Division 3. We then proceeded to the community center across the street where they h…

Hurricane Sandy's Battle Cry

Are we fighting to save our way of life, or the planet we live on?  Hurricane (and post-tropical cyclone) Sandy left lives, communities, and ecosystems scarred from the Caribbean up through the Ohio Valley.  People are measuring damage in lives lost, boardwalks destroyed, subway stations flooded, and homes without electricity.  The storm is front and center for those warning about the dangers of human-induced climate change -- weather patterns have become more extreme and unpredictable as the planet warms, leading to  frequent "100 year" events -- storms like Hurricane Sandy, the "derecho" wave of thunderstorms that knocked out power to thousands earlier this summer, the unusual rainfall in parts of the southwest, and prolonged "drought" in the Midwest.  Extreme is the new normal.

We are drowning our planet in toxic emissions, taking puffs from fossil fuels every time we turn on a light switch, or turn the key on an internal combustion engine. But are we …

First Solar's Funny Math in Ivanpah

First Solar is moving forward with the environmental review process for the Silver State South project, and is requesting permission to destroy enough desert wildlands to accomodate a 350 megawatt (MW) facility, according to the draft report published by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   But the company only has a buyer for 250MW, and it only has permission from energy regulators to ship 230MW over the transmission lines. This is significant because the company is proposing to build the project on a very narrow strip of desert habitat that serves as a critical genetic linkage for the desert tortoise, and First Solar appears to be inflating how much of the valuable desert land it actually needs. This is a location in the desert where every acre counts, but the company appears to be ignoring pleas by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other desert experts to preserve this wildlife corridor.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, First Solar has a power purchase …

Sunlight, Camera, Action!

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ReWire's Chris Clarke wrote on the winners of a video contest called "Sunlight. Camera. Action." hosted by Environment California, and the winners' videos are awesome.   The point of the contest was to tap the community's creative talent to promote the potential for rooftop solar in Los Angeles.  There are already thousands of rooftop solar installations in Los Angeles, but as these videos show, there is potential (and enthusiasm!) for so much more.

Below are the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the video contests:





Conservation Groups Weigh in on Destructive BrightSource Projects

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The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and NRDC have expressed concerns about BrightSource Energy's choice of project sites on desert habitat, recommending that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reject power purchase agreements (PPA) between BrightSource and Southern California Edison (SCE), according to letters filed with CPUC.  The CPUC was already looking into concerns that BrightSource's projects would sell electricity to the utility company at highly uncompetitive prices when compared to other renewable energy options. BrightSource Energy, which is responsible for displacing or killing hundreds of desert tortoises for its Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert, may have trouble financing and building two of its projects if CPUC rejects the PPAs.

Rio Mesa Solar Project Would Batter, Blind and Burn Birds The Sierra Club's submission to the CPUC expressed concern that BrightSource Energy's proposal to build  the massive Rio Mesa solar…

Race to the Bottom, or to the Roof?

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In tonight's Presidential debates, both candidates competed to be the person most willing to open public lands to energy companies. While there is undoubtedly a difference between the candidates on clean energy, neither seems to truly value our wildlands.  What if one of the audience members could ask how the candidates would address the urgent problem of climate change while protecting the iconic landscapes that we love?

Imagine if the candidates were eager to portray themselves as supportive of covering rooftops with solar panels, instead of handing public lands over to big corporations.  We need tax breaks and incentives for individuals to improve energy efficiency and put their rooftops to work, instead of more handouts to the 1%.


Palm Oil

I just read an article online about the destruction of remote rainforests in Sumatra to meet our demand for palm oil, an ingredient in many foods, soaps and cosmetics, according to Rainforest Action Network.  The rainforests being destroyed for palm oil are home to rare orangutans, but that is just one of the most charismatic of thousands of species that are being displaced.  I have never seen an orangutan in the wild (and I have never been to Sumatra), but it's deeply troubling to think that such a wild and beautiful place is being destroyed to feed mindless consumption.  But then again, we destroy mountains in West Virginia for coal, and deserts for solar.  We can rationalize or tolerate so much destruction until we are faced with the consequences.  And since our consumption draws on resources so far away, it is too easy to ignore the true costs.

Consider Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's (LADWP) recent announcement that it signed contracts to purchase solar energy…