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Showing posts from April, 2012

Industrialization of Western Mojave Desert Continues

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Terra-Gen Power has continued its expansive destruction of the western Mojave Desert as it adds nearly 205 wind turbines -- each over 400 feet tall -- replacing and industrializing a Joshua Tree woodland and creosote bush habitat on over 15 square miles.  The expansion adds to Alta Wind Energy Center, which is one of the largest of a slew of wind projects approved or under construction in the area.   Kern County approved the project despite concerns raised by residents and conservationists, adding to over 100 square miles of approved wind projects in the area. The massive wind projects pose a threat to California Condors and Golden Eagles, and require miles of wide access roads carved into the desert, fragmenting and destroying habitat.

But the impact goes beyond the ecological.  These are landscapes that we cherish and enjoy.  It can be a traumatic experience to see a peaceful stretch of desert transformed into an industrial zone. The desert we love is already under burden by huma…

Children's Book Takes on Death Valley

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A new children's book by artist and author Janet Morgan -- "Welcome to Death Valley!" -- takes young readers on a colorful journey through Death Valley National Park, exploring its dunes, rocky mountains, critters and wildflowers.  The desert can be a wondrous place, and Janet Morgan's book helps inspire that wonder by taking on what many perceive as a wasteland and revealing its fascinating life story.  Using ravens as guides, the author takes a trip around the desert park, explaining geological formations, the tell tale clues of critter tracks in the sand, the colorful rocks of Desolation Canyon and Artists Palette, and the oasis of Darwin Falls.



I grew up in the desert, and spent my summer breaks and weekends roaming the western Mojave Desert around Victorville looking for lizards (catch and release, of course) and interesting rocks.  I may be biased, but I think the desert is a great place to inspire a kid's respect for nature, to encourage them to appreciate…

Sentries in the Mojave

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Mojave yuccas stand sentry just south of Searchlight, Nevada, with Spirit Mountain in the distance.  Photograph taken at sunset in April 2012.  This desert would be industrialized for 87 wind turbines over 400 feet tall, and miles of wide access roads carved into the landscape if the Searchlight wind energy project is built.


Our Future Should Respect Our Past

"Hearsay." Storytelling.  That is how somebody described Native American history in an attempt to urge approval for a massive solar project in the desert. The individual was urging the California Energy Commission to overlook the presence of sacred sites on the same land where BrightSource Energy plans to build an industrial solar facility near Blythe, California.  But our history is not "hearsay." We are talking about centuries of cultural heritage and tradition.  If you discard that, you have an empty future ahead of you.

A series of articles in the Los Angeles Times has shed light on this tension by covering the mishaps at the construction site of NextEra's Genesis Solar power project in California.  At first, the solar project garnered attention when the eviction of kit foxes from their dens on the site likely led to an outbreak of deadly canine distemper that has now spread well beyond the construction site, which could affect the kit fox population th…

Creosote at Sunset

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The fading light of the setting sun behind a creosote bush, just south of Searchlight, Nevada. This desert would be industrialized with dozens of wind turbines over 400 feet high for Duke Energy's Searchlight Wind Energy Project.


Take Action on the Searchlight Wind Energy Project

The BLM is currently accepting public comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the the Searchlight Wind energy project, which would industrialize nearly 30 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat in southern Nevada.  The wind turbines will pose a risk to raptors and migratory birds, the construction of new roads will kill or displace dozens of threatened desert tortoises and pose a continuing risk to the species through increased off-road vehicle activity.

Public comments are due no later than 18 April to the BLM.  For guidance and suggested talking points to use to craft your own comments, check out Basin and Range Watch's page here.

Ask EPA to Hold Reid Gardner Coal to a Higher Standard

As I mentioned in my last post on this, the EPA decided that clean air and health in desert communities and wildlands is less important than the profit margin of the coal industry.  Instead of selecting the best available technology to reduce emissions from the Reid Gardner coal power plant northeast of Las Vegas, the EPA's proposed rule would let it use a less effective means primarily to reduce Reid Gardner's cost of compliance.

The EPA published the proposed rule in the Federal Register (here), which means you have until 14 May to submit your comments to Webb.Thomas@epa.gov.  Here are some points to use to craft your own comments:
The EPA should require Reid Gardner coal power plant to adopt the best available technology to reduce emissions, which in this case would be the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology. The EPA's proposed rule does not properly address the impacts of its decision on the health of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who live next to the power plan…

Cactus Cannot Outrun Bulldozers

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A cactus in bloom in the Pisgah Valley of the central Mojave Desert.  This cactus and the ecologically important desert habitat here would be destroyed by bulldozers if K Road Power begins construction of the Calico Solar power project.  The solar facility would destroy nearly 7 square miles of desert.  The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and NRDC have filed a legal challenge, suggesting the project should be built on already-disturbed lands.

Another Solar Mosaic Victory

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Solar Mosaic has done it again!  The organization successfully raised enough money through "crowd funding" for a rooftop solar installation in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The solar panels will adorn the top of the Murdoch Community Center, saving them over $73,000 and cutting over 347,000 pounds of CO2.  Solar Mosaic has completed funding for other rooftop solar installations in Oakland and the Navajo Nation.
Solar Mosaic's model is the perfect reminder that rooftop solar is an accessible option that spares our climate and wildlands from further destruction.  In addition to Solar Mosaic's victory, the City of Los Angeles also approved a feed-in-tarrif (FiT) for up to 150 megawatts of rooftop solar.  Although the FiT is focused on larger rooftop solar installations, the city will hopefully expand the program in the coming years to benefit smaller installations.  Rooftop solar is taking off, and California has already surpassed its 1,000MW rooftop solar goal.  But we have a lo…

BrightSource IPO: Smoke and Mirrors

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BrightSource Energy is planning its initial public offering (IPO) in NASDAQ this week.  This company touts itself as a green messiah bringing us energy from the future, yet its business model is simply unsustainable because it requires vast tracts of land and amounts of water in an ecosystem that already shoulders many public burdens.  And it does not help when they are running into conflict with State and Federal officials.

Outdated Way to Harvest Clean Energy
Unlike Solar City or Sungevity, BrightSource did not get the memo that the sun shines on rooftops and cities as much as it does on remote deserts.  Investing in BrightSource is like investing in a company making gramophones.  BrightSource Energy's facility design -- thousands of large mirrors focusing the sun's rays onto central power towers that heat up and generate energy -- is an archaic and destructive way of harvesting solar energy that requires years of planning, legal challenges, and new transmission lines.  Altho…

EPA Gives Coal Plant a Pass

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Update: You can view the proposed rule here, and send comments by 14 May to
Webb.Thomas@epa.gov. You should indicate your support for the more effective "selective catalytic reduction" technology, which would help keep poisons out of the nearby community of Moapa and improve visibility in our wildlands.
The Reid Gardner coal power plant casts a shadow over the Moapa Band of Paiutes, along the Muddy River in the eastern Mojave Desert.  On an annual basis, the coal plant spews three million tons of CO2,  nearly four thousand pounds of nitrogen oxides and, 71 pounds of mercury (a miniscule fraction of which is considered deadly).  Reid Gardner is a dangerous neighbor to this small community northeast of Las Vegas.  The tribe is fighting vigorously to put an end to this toxic industry, but the EPA recently proposed a rule that would permit the plant to continue operating with only marginal reductions in pollutants.  According to the EPA ruling, the costs of the most effective emi…

Wind Energy

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Wind energy destroys land, kills birds and bats, and requires immense amounts of steel and concrete, both of which are intense polluters.  And because wind energy is so intermittent -- an unreliable source of power -- utility companies have to contract with natural gas "peaker" plants to generate energy during the times when the wind is not blowing. This means that wind energy is not an efficient means of cutting carbon emissions.  There is no free lunch when it comes to energy, but we do not have to keep ordering from the same menu.  Invest in rooftop solar and energy efficiency, and we can sharply reduce our demand for destructive energy sources like coal, and natural gas, and wind.


Wind energy is not the answer. It is another corporate juggernaut with an insatiable appetite for our natural resources. Wake up, environmental community. Energy efficiency, and rooftop solar is where are efforts should be focused if we are going to defeat coal without regrets.

Peter Douglas

Mr. Peter Douglas, a long-time advocate for the environment and former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, passed away after a fight with cancer.  I wanted to share again something he wrote in 2009 as industrial-scale solar development threatened the Carrizo Plain and other beautiful landscapes.  He advocated for a focus on distributed generation, and siting larger facilities to avoid ecological destruction. From Mr. Douglas' letter to the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors:
I sense in pockets of our political, economic and civic world of leaders, a need to be seen as progressive facilitators and not as obstructionists in the way of new centralized industrial development of renewable energy. This is an alarming and, in the long view, a self-destructive, tragic trend because it is unnecessary and erosive of community wellbeing. Cities and Counties are entirely capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating clean, renewable, affordable energy fo…

First Solar Meddling in Riverside County Election?

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First Solar is putting its money behind a candidate running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors who has a long record of turning a blind eye to toxic chemicals in our community and environment, according to campaign finance records.  First Solar almost certainly is trying to position itself to influence Riverside County policies after the current Board of Supervisors instituted a per acre fee on industrial scale solar facilities in the desert region.  The Board in November approved the fee for solar projects larger than 20 megawatts because such large facilities in remote areas incur substantial burden on county services and also are a cause of visual blight with new transmission lines.  The fees can be offset by various incentives if, for example, the solar developers do not require new transmission lines or if they hire local workers.

The costs of providing county services to industrial solar projects can be substantial.  Inyo County calculated that BrightSource Energy'…