Posts

Showing posts from July, 2013

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Project

Image
In the time it took BrightSource Energy to build its 377 megawatt Ivanpah Solar project on over 5 square miles of pristine desert, California added more than twice as much clean energy capacity with rooftop solar, and other companies added hundreds of megawatts to the grid from solar projects built on already-disturbed lands.  Why carpet beautiful desert landscapes with mirrors when there is a better way to generate clean energy?

Los Angeles Times Misses the Full Story on Wind

Image
The Los Angeles Times today published an editorial sympathizing with the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA) regarding the relative lack of development zones suitable for wind energy in California's desert.  CalWEA believes the planning process for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) - which will identify areas where land management and wildlife officials believe utility-scale renewable energy development is appropriate in the California Desert District - favors solar over wind.

CalWEA and the Los Angeles Times fail to acknowledge that wind turbines already cover vast swaths of our desert.  In California's San Gorgonio Pass, 3,000 wind turbines have transformed over 20 square miles of desert and foothills into an industrial zone.   In the Tehachapi area, the industry has developed over 50 square miles into a wind energy zone hosting hundreds of wind turbines.  One of the largest wind projects in the country is located in the Mojave Desert near Tehachap…

How Much More Transmission Do We Need?

Image
All of the transmission cables you see strung across the western United States and Canada could wrap around the Earth four and a half times.   New Federal policies and a utility industry emphasis on connecting cities to some of the most destructive energy projects on remote wildlands has resulted in plans to add up to seven thousand circuit miles of new transmission lines in the west, alone, including several new lines in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  The White House's latest directive on transmission seeks to institute a fast-track approval system for these lines, ostensibly to reach renewable energy projects, but fails to establish an institutional incentive for the energy industry to invest in efficiency or distributed generation as a less costly alternative to new transmission and remote power plants.

Abusive RelationshipThe transmission system is complex, and we will be mostly dependent on a healthy grid for quite some time, even under an ideal scenario with aggressive dep…

Desert Solar Killing Water Birds

Image
Birds that are typically only found along rivers and at lakes are turning up dead at industrial-scale solar plants in the middle of the desert, according to KCET's ReWire, probably dying of thirst or collision with reflective solar panels.  The birds almost certainly are attracted to the facilities from far away because the field of reflective solar panels or troughs appear as a body of water. 

KCET's ReWire did some research and found that 37 dead or injured birds have been found at the newly-constructed Desert Sunlight (built by First Solar) and Genesis (built by NextEra) solar projects near Joshua Tree National Park.  More than half of the birds are water birds, possibly straying from their normal habitat at the Salton Sea or Colorado River dozens of miles away.  An endangered Yuma clapper rail was found at First Solar's Desert Sunlight solar project, which is at least 35 miles from the bird's nearest habitat.  It is not clear if more birds have already been killed…

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects.

Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow; and still pending environmental review and approval in Green.  All told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could be des…

Desert Kit Fox Project

I have never seen a kit fox in person, but I almost certain a desert kit fox has seen me.  I have spent enough time in its habitat that they have probably stalked my camp sites.   This species - like many others in the desert - face the threat of climate change, habitat loss to industrial energy development, and urban sprawl.  More recently, kit foxes on the site of NextEra's Genesis Solar power project have died from a canine distemper outbreak possibly caused when the company tried to harass them from their dens.

Luckily some students from Duke University are starting a research project to better understand the kit fox's habitat preference, and how human disturbances, landscape vegetation, and prey species affect the animals.  Chris Clarke held an informative Google Hangout chat with them where they explain the tools they'll be using to advance their research, but they will need your help.

In order to survey more than 200 square miles of kit fox habitat, they'll need …

Oil Pipeline Proposed for Joshua Tree Area

Image
Questar, a natural gas-focused company with pipelines throughout western states, is evaluating options for a crude oil pipeline through the California desert to refineries in Long Beach, California.  The company would build up to 120 miles of new 16-inch pipeline between Essex and Whitewater, California to connect portions of the existing Questar Southern Trails pipeline, which currently carries natural gas from New Mexico to Essex for California utilities.   The new 120 mile portion would  be routed east of Joshua Tree National Park through Desert Center, or west of the National Park through the Morongo Basin.

The BLM has not yet begun environmental review of the Questar project, so stay tuned.


The Questar pipeline is a separate project from the CalNev pipeline, which will be developed by another company and carry oil from Colton, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.  I wrote about the CalNev pipeline in a previous post. The BLM re-initiated review and is accepting public comments until …

NRG Solar Engages in Cover-Up

Image
NRG Solar's Vice President recently expressed to CBS just how ill-informed he is about desert ecology.  In a story about the Ivanpah Solar project, Mr. Randall Hickok described the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah project - which NRG invested in along with BrightSource Energy - as "environmentally benign" and sited on "degraded land" that is "less prone to have wildlife."  Really?  Is that why he had to hire over 80 biologists to displace dozens of endangered species?  Ivanpah Valley hosts an above-averages species richness, serves as a critical habitat linkage for the desert tortoises, hosts pockets of rare plants, and provides a foraging area for desert bighorn sheep and golden eagles.

I'm sorry Mr. Hickok didn't bother to read the environmental impact statement for the project.  I would much rather NRG invest in distributed generation and projects on already-disturbed lands, but now I'm not sure they know the difference.  Luckily CBS also interv…