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 last week - for finding a site that does not involve the destruction of intact desert habitat.
These projects are still industrial-scale, however, and it is incumbent upon local planners and the companies to make sure they make good neighbors, especially by controlling fugitive dust. Construction on a separate project in the Antelope Valley was suspended last month because the company could not control dust clouds, which can cause health problems and impair visibility. As it goes, energy efficiency and distributed generation (solar on
rooftops or over parking lots) remain the gold standard when it comes to
kicking fossil fuels because they require no new transmission lines and
other carbon-intensive infrastructure.