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Showing posts from May, 2013

Mesquite Flat Dunes

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I have to admit I was surprised to see so many footsteps in the sand at the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park.  One usually thinks of waves of sand arranged only by the wind and small critters that emerge after sundown when the surface is cooler.  But the Mesquite Flat Dunes are right there by Stovepipe Wells, and irresistible to travelers motoring through the park. A short walk from the parking lot and you can be in the middle of an iconic feature of any desert - sand dunes.


I traveled through the park with my friend Jimmy, and caught a glimpse of the dunes at sunset, with the beautiful hues of purple, brown and red of the sky and sand all seeming to blend together.  As we pulled up, headlights were streaming out of the parking lot as folks left for their camping spot or lodge before it got too dark.

The next morning we hiked into the dunes for sunrise.  What a beloved landscape -- with the steps of its admirers from the day before still evident, you could see a dozen…

Audubon California Joins Groups Opposing Federal Condor Decision

Audubon California released a statement opposing the Federal decision to allow a wind energy company to kill a California condor.
“Unfortunately, a series of decisions, large and small, over the last several years have brought these turbines to the doorstep of one of America’s most iconic species, and in this process we arrive at a point where the federal agency tasked with protecting the condor says it’s OK to take one, that we have to choose between two good things — renewable energy and wildlife protection.

“We fundamentally reject that choice. Given the continual technological improvements coming online, the American public has every reason to expect that we can develop renewable energy and ensure that condors will not be killed.” - Audubon California Audubon California joins other groups expressing concern about the decision, including the American Bird Conservancy and Center for Biological Diversity.  Many environmentalists know that there is a difference between energy developme…

Feds Publish Final Order Allowing Wind Company to Kill a Condor; Other Wildlife At Risk

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The Obama administration published the Record of Decision on Friday that permits Terra-Gen Power LLC to industrialize more of the western Mojave Desert with the Alta East Wind project, and kill at least one endangered California condor without penalty.  The American Bird Conservancy is asking the Obama administration to reverse the unprecedented move to allow the condor death, noting that many private and non-profit groups investing resources in the bird's recovery were blindsided.

Industrial Transformation of Western Mojave
The wind project - financed by Citibank and Google - will be located near the Tehachapi Mountains and destroy desert tortoise and golden eagle habitat in a region continuously besieged by new new proposals for wind projects.  Wildlife officials admit that the cumulative impact of so much industrialization is difficult to calculate, but Washington's "all of the above" energy strategy typically fast-tracks permits ahead of greater environmental …

Joshua Tree National Park Spared From Los Angeles Trash Plans

Los Angeles County has withdrawn plans to turn an abandoned mine site adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park into one of the world's largest trash dumps, according to KCET.  The mine site was among 265,000 acres of public land removed from what was then Joshua Tree National Monument by Congress in 1950 to benefit the mineral industry. 

The owner of the mine sought to enter into a contract with Los Angeles County to accept thousands of tons of garbage, requiring new train and diesel truck traffic in the desert.  The courts dealt the company's plans a severe setback in 2010 and 2011. It was only this month that Los Angeles finally decided to give up on its side of the bargain with the mine company.

As the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) points out, over 300,000 people have spoken out against the landfill project, a testament to the love people have for the desert.  The County became willing to abandon the landfill plans because it is increasing its recycling effic…

Nevada Embraces the Bridge, Not the Solution

The Nevada legislature introduced a bill (S.B. 123) that would drastically reduce the state's dependence on coal power plants, but introduce an equal amount of natural gas generation and additional transmission lines that will continue to wreck Nevada's wild landscapes.  The bill proposes to eliminate no less than 800 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity, but requires utility companies to acquire or construct 700 to 800 megawatts of natural gas generation, in addition to 600 megawatts from renewable energy sources.  The bill does not contain specific provisions that would encourage distributed generation,  and offers only meager encouragement for utility companies to improve energy efficiency.

So not only will Nevada continue to draw a large portion of energy from fossil fuels, Nevada's most significant step into renewable energy is almost certain to be guided by utility companies that profit the most when they build destructive infrastructure on public lands, inste…

Solar Awakening

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An article in Renewable Energy World discusses natural gas as a "bridge" to renewable energy sources, such as utility-scale solar and wind, showing how energy companies are exploiting demand for renewable energy to double down on investment in fossil fuels and unnecessary infrastructure, such as transmission lines.   As long as we draw the majority of our energy from giant utility companies, you can bet on an unhealthy mix of fossil fuels in the grid.  Utility companies are guaranteed a fixed return on the massive transmission lines that link expensive and dirty central station power plants to our cities from far away, and the companies that build those power plants are heavily invested in fossil fuels.

Wind turbines spoiling desert landscapes require new transmission lines, and the "intermittency" of the wind requires a new natural gas plant, and more transmission lines.  These companies collect a guaranteed profit from you,  and then turn around and invest that m…

Laws Not Enforced as Wind Industry Kills More Birds and Bats

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The Associated Press published a thorough article examining the number of eagles and other protected birds being killed by wind energy projects -- many built on remote wildlands -- and highlighting the Department of Interior's unwillingness to hold the wind industry accountable to laws meant to protect wildlife.   With over 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines each year,  according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, as well as a significant number of bats, the Department of Interior can only point to superficial and voluntary guidelines that the wind industry continues to ignore.

Some environmentalists attempt to downplay the problem, as Sierra Club editor Paul Rauber did in a Sierra magazine article earlier this year that described hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year as "trivial."  The wind industry responded to the Associated Press article with the same argument employed by Mr. Rauber, stating that buildings, cars, and cats kill even more birds each year.  …

Not Essential

An excerpt from my post"Silence" at theNot Essential List:

"I do not know how to turn these feelings into the words I need to make people see the beauty we are about to lose.  So I watch the sun set, and rise, and set again.  Each time more beautiful than the last. Numb to the yelling that rages.  A violent house that I cannot escape.  It is my Earth, but I have no choice to share it with the ones who do not care.  I have no choice but to keep trying."

Obama Administration: Wind Industry Allowed to Kill Condors

Update: I have heard that the authorization to allow Terra-Gen to kill California condors may not be under an "incidental take permit," but some other allowance under the Endangered Species Act.  Either way, the green light to kill California condors is a significant step in how we protect and recover this endangered species.  When more details are available I will write a follow-up post.

In a shocking move against wildlife and wildlands, the Obama administration announced on Friday that wind energy company Terra-Gen could kill endangered California condors without penalty near Tehachapi, California, according to the Los Angeles Times.  This is yet another indication that the Obama administration's clean energy platform is motivated not by a desire to protect the environment, but instead to cater to corporations -- Washington has failed to put in place mandatory guidelines that would require companies to build wind facilities away from important bird habitat.  Many in th…

Disturbed-Land Solar Outpaces More Destructive Alternative

Some energy companies and wayward self-described "environmentalists" suggest that we must destroy desert wildlands for large solar and wind facilities in order to combat climate change. 
Solar facilities on already-disturbed lands, however, prove this assertion is simply wrong.  Just this week a company began construction on a 127 megawatt solar project on fallow agricultural lands in Arizona, west of Phoenix.  The Arlington Valley Solar project will be far from its customers in San Diego, but unlike solar and wind projects being built on pristine public lands, the Arlington project will not rob us of desert habitat. 

The Arlington Valley project joins a series of other large solar facilities on already-disturbed lands, including NRG's 66 MW Alpine Solar, First Solar's 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar, 8minutenergy's 266 MW Mount Signal Solar, and SunPower's 579 MW Antelope Valley Solar.  The Sierra Club lauded SunPower - which began construction on its project las…