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Showing posts from September, 2012

Southern Nevada Wildlands Face Industrial Transformation

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By 2020, Nevadans may not recognize the once open wildlands they enjoy outside of Las Vegas, as renewable energy corporations backed by Wall Street have proposed to industrialize roughly 410 square miles of desert habitat in nearly every scenic vista within an hour's drive of the metropolis.
A slew of solar companies have applied, or have been approved to construct 19 solar facilities in desert valleys, each consuming several square miles of land.  Wind companies, on the other hand, are exploring options to build 6 different facilities, and the average project would fragment and industrialize over 27 square miles of desert mountains and foothills of southern Nevada.  Transmission lines constitute the third greatest threat to wild lands, as utility companies plan to add dozens of miles of new transmission lines across the region to connect new solar and wind projects to the grid. Doubling Vegas' Sprawl If all of the projects are constructed,  energy companies will have destroyed …

BrightSource Energy's Plans to Limit Environmental Review Meets Resistance

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In an odd legal move, BrightSource Energy is demanding the California Energy Commission (CEC) correct "errors" in the preliminary staff assessment of the company's Hidden Hills solar project.  BrightSource's motion to alter the staff assessment would limit environmental analysis in such a way that improves the company's chances of approval, despite serious concerns about the project's water demand in the overdrawn Pahrump Valley groundwater basin.  The move drew sharp rebuke from the CEC staff and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The company's motion suggests they are worried the CEC will either select the No Action Alternative or require the project to use a different technology, such as photovoltaic solar panels.  Among the specific requests in the motion, BrightSource Energy asks that the staff assessment 1.) define the project's objectives in a way to meet the company's own preferred criteria, 2.) limit analysis of alternatives to technolo…

A Member of the Desert Choir

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Desert wildlife is elusive. You'll see all of the signs of wildlife -- tracks, scat, burrows, etc. -- but you often don't see the animals.  When I am lucky enough to be enjoying a trek in the desert, I always hear plenty of chatty birds, especially in the morning and around sunset.  So it was delightful to read Chris Clarke's piece on cactus wrens, which included a video of this bird's characteristic call.

Real Wastelands

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If you ask me, rooftops are the real wastelands.  Vast open spaces in our cities, just waiting for another purpose in life.


YIMBY

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Solar panels do not need pristine desert to thrive. They do just as well on your rooftop.  If you own a rooftop, consider the solar leasing option.  Solar City and Sungevity offer rooftop solar panels with no upfront costs to much of the southwestern United States.  If you are not ready for rooftop solar, then please turn off lights, TVs, computers and other appliances when you do not need them. Energy efficiency is the best way to cut our dependence on fossil fuels and save wildlands. Change starts in your backyard.

TV Series Features Desert Landscapes

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This American Land and the Pew Charitable Trust featured desert activists Tom Budlong of the Sierra Club, and Laurel Williams of the California Wilderness Coalition, among others, who explain why the desert is special to them, the local communities, and visitors from far and wide.

Pew made this available on YouTube.  Check it out!

Calico Solar Project: Corporation Shows Contempt for Environmental Concerns

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Despite requests by an array of environmental groups to prevent destruction of critical desert habitat in the Pisgah Valley in the central Mojave Desert, the Department of Interior and K Road Power continue to move forward with plans to permit and build the Calico Solar project.  The project footprint has only been slightly redesigned, but would still destroy at least 6 square miles of desert habitat for photovoltaic solar panels -- the same technology that can be deployed on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.  The public lands targeted for the proposed project site host a diverse array of birds, reptiles, mammals, and plants, prompting concern from desert conservationists that the massive project will block wildlife connectivity across the central Mojave.

Modifications Miss the Point
The modified layout of the Calico Solar project provides a 158 acre "habitat connectivity" zone through the center of the project -- that is less than a quarter square mile of total habitat…

Edward Abbey and the Great American Desert

Chris Clarke over at Coyote Crossing found this old film of Edward Abbey -- an ardent defender of the desert -- that intended to air in 1985, but ended up getting shelved by a broadcast company that apparently rejected his efforts to protect nature.  I read Edward Abbey's Desert Solitude in high school, and have to say that it was one of the few books I loved reading back then. I did not know at the time, though, what the desert would mean to me later in my life.  I cherished the desert's quiet open space, the challenge of an unrelenting sun, and the reward of the most beautiful sunsets. I just took all of that for granted.


Essay

Here is another great work on Edward Abbey recently featured in the new ARID: Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology.  The piece is an interactive web experience titled "Canyonlands: Edward Abbey and the Great American Desert" that takes you from Ed's arrival at Arches National Park in the late 1950s to the end of his life in 1989, …

Energy Is Costly, But It Does Not Have To Be Greedy

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Our clean energy path will not be cheap, but it should not involve subsidizing the same corporate greed that continues to wreck our wildlands. The Los Angeles Times published an article detailing the costs to taxpayers and ratepayers for giant solar facilities responsible for destroying desert habitat, and the fact that companies investing in these projects receive an incredible return on their investment.  Some of these companies responsible for remote desert solar facilities will probably be familiar to you -- JP Morgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley, General Electric, and Berkshire Hathaway. These are the same companies that also profit from fossil fuels.  It does not matter if the bulldozer is making way for a natural gas well or a wind turbine -- for these companies, the end is profit, and the means is anything that will increase that profit.

As we advocate for a clean energy future, we should ask ourselves if we're willing to take shortcuts that destroy the things we love --…

NPCA Warns of Unnecessary Desert Destruction

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The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a report warning about the "solar energy tsunami" heading for America's southwestern deserts, referring to plans by energy companies to destroy hundreds of square miles of intact desert ecosystems for industrial-scale solar facilities.  In discussing the report and accompanying video, NPCA California Desert senior program manager urges a more innovative clean energy path that does not force America to lose natural and cultural treasures in desert landscapes:
"I think that part of the message we want to share today is that we do want to encourage both the public and the administration to stand strong in support of national parks. We recognize that it's really important to forward our solar future, but we think that can best be accomplished by a diversified portfolio where we're looking at options like not just roof-top solar, but also looking at development on disturbed lands." -- David Lamfrom, …

BrightSource Energy Challenges Military Training Mission

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The Department of Defense has expressed concern that BrightSource Energy's solar "power tower" technology could obstruct military testing and training activities in the Mojave Desert, since the heated towers standing hundreds of feet over the desert could become an attractive target for heat seeking sensors and weapons.  Two BrightSource Energy projects in particular are proposed for desert habitat bordering the US Marine Corps' base at Twentynine Palms, where air and ground live fire exercises are conducted.

The Siberia Solar project would be built just north of the Marine base, but within view of an active training ground.  The project would also be adjacent to the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, a conservation effort to protect desert landscapes and wildlife along the historic Route 66.  The Department of the Interior has shown a propensity to permit energy projects despite environmental concerns in its "fast track" permitting process, but it i…

Desert Conservation Proposal Languishes in Washington

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A gridlocked Congress has sat on top of a proposal to conserve desert wildlands for two years now, and it appears that the only hope for Senator Feinstein's California Desert Protetion Act of 2011 (S. 138 - originally introduced in 2010) may be a Presidential designation under the Antiquities Act.   Although a Presidential monument designation is sure to draw fire from opponents, the Antiquities Act of 1906 has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike to protect natural treasures and Congress' indecision over land stewardship is unlikely to be resolved soon.

Public lands are caught in a political spectrum that has trended toward destruction and away from conservation, with Utah Governor Herbert looking to seize treasured public lands and dole them out to private companies, and a Presidential candidate that wants to ramp up fossil fuel extraction in every corner of the country.

The Obama Administration's mark on desert wildlands so far has been regrettable  with a d…

Wind Developer Taking Aim at Mojave National Preserve

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Oak Creek Energy Systems, under a subsidiary known as Crescent Peak Renewables LLC, has submitted initial plans to install up to 220 giant wind turbines in southern Nevada, just outside of the scenic Mojave National Preserve, according to documents submitted to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and obtained by Basin and Range Watch.  If built, the Crescent Peak Wind project would fragment and industrialize approximately 58 square miles of remote desert habitat, threaten raptors and likely impact nearby Wilderness Areas and an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Oak Creek Energy Systems, which is ultimately controlled by the Japan-based Marubeni Corporation, has expressed interest in developing a wind project in the area since 2006, according to Bureau of Land Management records, and was granted permission to install wind testing equipment in 2009.  In the meantime, Oak Creek has been responsible for some of the destruction of desert habitat in the western Mojave Desert at the…

Solar Trends Show Wildlands Sacrifice is Not Necessary

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Solar energy is a rapidly growing piece of the energy pie necessary to kick our habit of dirty fossil fuels, but trends in solar energy growth so far, and an abundance of suitable spaces for solar panels in our cities and on already-disturbed lands suggests there is no need to sacrifice our open wildlands.   

Making Progress Without Desert Destruction
Solar energy generation has grown to over 5,100 megawatts in the United States according to GTM research -- enough to replace roughly nine Reid Gardner coal power plants. How did we reach this goal?  A good chunk is from rooftop solar, while most of the larger solar facilities contributing to this number were built on already-disturbed lands.  Most utility-scale projects that are destroying desert wildlands, such as BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, are not included in this number because they are not yet plugged into the grid.

Looking to Already-Disturbed Lands
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency made a mapping…

What Just Happened?

It was a crazy week for the environment, and one that shows that our political leaders have a shallow--if not absent--appreciation for conservation and sustainability.  On the bright side,  the Obama administration approved stricter fuel efficiency rules for automobiles, requiring all vehicles to reach a 54.5 miles per gallon standard by the year 2025.  The rule is expected to significantly cut fossil fuel demand (by millions of barrels of oil, per day!) and save car owners money over the long-term. This is a significant step in reducing carbon emissions.

But in the same week, political leaders on both sides of the aisle raced to one-up the other on support to fossil fuels.  The Obama administration approved plans by the Department of Interior to lease lands in Wyoming for the mining of nearly 438 million tons of coal, and then issued a much-opposed permit to Shell Oil to begin drilling operations in Arctic water, where environmentalists fear the company will not be able to manage an …