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Showing posts from May, 2012

Sierra Club Turns 120 Years Young

The Sierra Club was founded 120 years ago on 28 May 1892.  A year later, the first volume of the Sierra Club Bulletin detailed one member's account of a trip from the Mojave Desert mining town of Daggett, California, to Furnace Creek in what would eventually become Death Valley National Park in a piece titled "Through Death Valley".

After departing Daggett and enduring a rough journey on the first day, the member described the timeless experience of waking up to a cool desert dawn, refreshed from a good night's sleep under the stars:
"The next morning dawned bright and clear. As I threw off my blankets my first impression was that I was in a perfect paradise. All about us were the beautiful yuccas, stretching their spiny arms in all directions, while beneath them was a perfect carpet of gorgeously colored flowers, some like white satin, others a beautiful blue, while from every bit of shaded ground, like golden daisies, nodded a beautiful yellow flower (Anisconi…

Neon Desert

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I was struck by the bright colors of the lichen on the lava rock, and a blooming chia (Salvia columbariae) in the foreground. This was taken at the cinder cones in the Mojave National Preserve.




Sierra Club Lobbying for Wind Industry; Wind Industry Lobbying Against Wildlife

It's an odd situation when the Sierra Club provides unconditional support to an industry that describes wildlife and conservation goals as "obstacles," lobbies to weaken the environmental laws we have fought hard to institute and enforce, and enjoys comfortable access to a White House promoting an "all of the above" energy policy that is taking its toll on our climate and our public lands.  In a blog post titled "Americans Agree With President Obama: Wind Is the Way," Sierra Club Director of Clean Energy Dave Hamilton calls for the renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) that has driven the wind industry's expansion onto wildlands in recent years,  yet the wind industry simultaneously ignores the Club's conservation concerns and dismisses guidance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to avoid impacts on protected and endangered bats and birds.

The wind industry is not as toxic as coal, but it has about as much regard for conserva…

Renewable Energy Industry Didn't Anticipate Dust in Desert

Apparently the renewable energy industry did not realize that when you bulldoze dozens of square miles of intact desert habitat, you remove the topsoil that keeps down wind-born dust.  First Solar's Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 (AVSR 1) project is currently delayed due to dust issues and an electrical permitting issue, according to Greentech Media.  First Solar also apparently violated air quality standards near Joshua Tree National Park when the construction for its Desert Sunlight project kicked up clouds of dust. Separately, Pattern Energy appears to be in violation of the rules as its construction crews generate a significant amount of dust for a wind energy project, according to Basin and Range Watch.   Dust clouds caused by construction may not seem like a significant problem to some, but the haze is a quality of life issue for the local communities in the desert, and with hundreds of square miles of planned solar and wind projects in the desert, the problem is likely to gr…

It Passed!

To update you on yesterday's post, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) passed the proposal to nearly double the number of rooftop solar installations that can benefit from net metering, where utility companies fairly credit the customers for solar energy they generate for themselves.  Like I wrote yesterday, this is just the start. CPUC voted to pass a measure that keeps rooftop solar viable for another year or so. But we have not yet begun to understand the benefits and efficiencies of ditching our old energy model.  Rooftop solar means fewer transmission lines, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and giving pristine wildlands to future generations, not energy companies.  I am looking forward to the next CPUC vote to expand rooftop solar.

Important Rooftop Solar Decision Due Tomorrow

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is expected to vote tomorrow (24 May) on a proposal to essentially increase the number of utility customers who can benefit from net metering, where the utility credits the customer for the full retail value of energy their panels produce.  If the proposal is passed, the number of net metered solar installations would nearly double.  The Sierra Club has been a vocal proponent of the proposal, and over 60,000 residents spoke up in favor. 

As a recent Huffington Post piece mentioned, rooftop solar is not a tool for the rich and famous. The majority of rooftop solar installations have been in zip codes with median incomes.  Rooftop solar also generates local jobs, and reduces the need for toxic "peaker plants" which fire up to generate energy during peak demand hours and pollute our air.

If the proposal passes, we still have a long fight ahead of us. The proposal would allow 4,600 megawatts of net metered solar.  California can …

Ocotillo Wind Project Begins Habitat Destruction

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A Federal judge yesterday denied a petition by the Quechan tribe to halt construction of a destructive wind energy project in the Colorado Desert just south of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California.  The nearly 16 square mile project is expected to destroy cultural sites of significance to the tribe, fragment and destroy habitat, and kill bats, raptors and other birds with 112 turbines, each towering over 400 feet tall.  The project will feed energy customers over 60 miles away in San Diego, where conservationists argue rooftop solar can be installed instead of relying on the remote wind project.  San Diego has already reached over 4,500 rooftop solar installations, and California has installed over 1,000 megawatts of rooftop solar  --  over 3 times the amount that will be generated by the massive Ocotillo Express wind project. And that's just the beginning of California's distributed generation potential.   Hopefully our clean energy future will focus more on c…

Wind Industry Strategy Seeks to Undermine Wildlife Protections

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The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is carrying out an aggressive effort to undermine wildlife protections that it views as an obstacle to its expansion onto wildlands, according to an AWEA strategy document from late 2011.   AWEA's strategy outlines plans to facilitate the industrialization of public lands by allowing "industry to proactively set and guide the siting agenda" by co-opting environmental groups, government agencies, and a wildlife research institute, according to the document.
As of May, the wind industry had proposed over 249 square miles of projects across Arizona, California and Nevada.  In those same states, the industry was exploring additional projects on over 1,121 square miles, according to the BLM's land records database. Meeting just 20% of the United States' energy needs with wind energy will require 20,000 square miles, according to a Department of Energy report. The AWEA document highlighted feedback to the wind industry from…

EPA Extends Comment Deadline for Reid Gardner Coal Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended its deadline to receive public comments on an emissions reduction proposal for the Reid Gardner coal power plant in Nevada.  Comments are now due by June 4.  You can read my previous blog post on how to submit comments, or read the Federal Register notice (which still contains the older public comments deadline). 

The bottom line is that older coal power plants like Reid Gardner are responsible for the vast majority of toxic emissions from the energy sector, including 64% of Nitrogen Oxides emissions (the primary emission that the EPA seeks to control with its proposed determination), according to a Government Accountability Office report. If the EPA is going to give older fossil fuel facilities a free pass, then we will not see a significant difference in the impacts we're seeking to address.  This means continued health problems for nearby communities, particularly the town of Moapa and the Moapa band of Paiutes, which have…

Endangered Species Day

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Today is Endangered Species Day. Let us strive to find a way to live on this Earth while preserving its beautiful biodiversity.


Route 66

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The photo below shows desert wildflowers in bloom along Route 66 in California's Mojave Desert. This area would be preserved under the California Desert Protection Act of 2011, which Senator Feinstein introduced last year but is still in limbo in Washington DC. The Obama administration expressed its support for the conservation plan outlined in the Act. 


The historical Route 66 passes through much of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, one of two monument proposals contained in the California Desert Protection Act of 2011 (S.138).  There are many sites of cultural and historical significance along Route 66, surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes. Climate change, proposed utility scale wind and solar energy projects, and a myriad of other human impacts threaten to destroy the intact ecosystem here that greets visitors and conveys a sense of boundless liberty. If you visit, take your time to watch the graceful raptors soaring above or reptiles darting between creosote b…

Rooftop Solar Making Gains in Southwest

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visited Phoenix on Tuesday to tout a rooftop solar leasing program that will ultimately enable up to 1,000 residents to install panels.  The $25 million program, financed by the National Bank of Phoenix, is the second phase since the first round attracted over 400 interested residents. Solar leasing is not as ideal as self-financed installations that could be possible through Property Assessed Clean Energy or feed-in-tariffs, but does achieve a reduction of fossil fuel emissions, and savings on energy bills. Best of all, no desert is destroyed to install solar on rooftops or in other places in our cities!

Next week, the California Public Utilities Commission is set to decide on whether or not to essentially raise the number of utility customers that can benefit from net metering, where rooftop solar owners are credited for energy they generate. The vote by the commissioners will be held on 24 May, and one commissioner has already recommended approval.  I…

More on the False Dilemma

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You can kill the planet with lethal injection, or the electric chair. Those are the two options offered by some environmentalists.

Last night I wrote about a prevailing "war" that we environmentalists are waging against fossil fuels, and the weapon chosen by environmental "leaders" happens to be killing what we love.  It's about "trade offs" according to the environmental vanguard. Give up some wildlands for utility-scale wind and solar energy, and we can save the planet. But they never tell you how much we need to give up. Just ignore the numbers, because clean energy consultant Alan Nogee says we need to make the "trade off".  Just be happy that the destruction of habitat and a reduction of biodiversity was caused by clean energy, and not climate change.


If you're still curious, according to the Department of Energy, achieving only 20% of our energy from wind energy would require the industrialization of 20,000 square miles of land, an…

More Nuance, Less Entrenchment

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A recent article by the Guardian newspaper exposed efforts by the fossil fuel industry to co-opt and support grassroots groups opposed to wind energy facilities.  The article points to a strategy memo put together by the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI) to organize local anti-wind groups and generate more opposition to big wind facilities, and ignoring the core problem of climate change caused by unsustainable use of the planet's resources.

The campaign, and other recent efforts by the fossil fuel industry to maintain its destructive foothold on our planet is a sign that, despite growing concern for our climate and our economic dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels, the industry is still on the prowl, like Cruella Deville in search of puppies. Following efforts by the Heartland Institute, this was dismaying, but not a surprise.  But the response from the green community has been the most alarming for me.

Since the ATI story broke, there has been a flurry of part…

Bighorn Whisperer

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People familiar with the desert know that a hike out there is great for the peace and solitude, and hundreds of subtle signs of life -- tracks in the sand, animal burrows, and many plants and wildflowers that offer a quiet companionship.  Maybe a black-tailed jackrabbit or western whiptail lizard will dart out in front of you, but the bigger fauna are more elusive.  The desert tortoise spends most of its life underground in burrows.  Kit foxes and bobcats are usually most active at night.  Bighorn sheep usually stay up in the rugged mountains. 
Fellow desert blogger Morongo Bill recently had the lucky experience to come across a herd of bighorn sheep (I assume Ovis canadensis nelsoni) in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, and posted some amazing photos over at Morongobill's Backporch blog! Call him the Bighorn Whisperer!

Name a Price

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How can you give this up to industry and profit? What is this moment's price tag? Nature and solitude. The call of the coyote as the sun makes its final mark on the land for the day. The cool kiss of the night luring critters from their burrows to begin their foraging, and revealing a blanket of stars. I hope future generations can enjoy this.