Monday, July 22, 2013

Los Angeles Times Misses the Full Story on Wind

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 Tehachapi.

This photo only shows a fraction of the wind development along the Tehachapi Mountains.  The California Wind Energy Association wants to repeat this devastation across much of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.
Another flaw is CalWEA's expectation of parity with solar.  Wind resources simply are not as abundant in the desert as solar resources.  This ain't Kansas, where much of the land receives "good" or better wind speeds, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  Compare NREL wind resource maps for Kansas and California, and "good" areas cover only a small slice of the California desert - and usually where there are already hundreds of turbines.  And where there are wind resources in the desert that have not been tapped, there tend to be cherished wildlife and beautiful landscapes that the public has deemed important enough to protect.  The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 specifically created the California Desert Conservation Area to protect these resources, recognizing the burden of a growing human population.

What would CalWEA like to see in the DRECP?  Maps submitted by CalWEA to the DRECP planners in 2012 request the plan to include wind resource areas totalling 2.6 million acres - over 4,062 square miles -  of mostly pristine desert;  turbines would be visible from anywhere within nearly two-thirds of the California desert.    The DRECP alternatives are not that far off from this number.   Preliminary documents released in December already identify development focus areas that coincide with a healthy portion of the "Priority Wind Resource Areas" that CalWEA is asking DRECP planners to support.  One of the more destructive DRECP alternatives would provide the wind industry with over one million acres of development focus areas. 

The purple areas in the map above are the "Priority Wind Resource Areas" CalWEA proposed be included as development focus areas in the DRECP. 
It is also worth noting that CalWEA's standards for identifying "Priority Wind Resource Areas" are questionable.  CalWEA simply identified lands where the estimated wind speed is typically greater than six meters per second, but it is not clear how accurate the estimates are, nor how consistent the winds would be to generate reliable power.  Notice that one priority wind resource area on the map above includes the now-operational Ocotillo Express Wind project.  The Ocotillo Wind project is notorious for turbines that rarely spin, meaning that nearly 16 square miles of the Colorado desert region south of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was industrialized for a project that probably does not live up to its promised generation capacity.

The Los Angeles Times got one thing right in its editorial - we need more clean energy.  But instead of forking over more intact desert ecosystem to an insatiable industry, perhaps we can look to smarter alternatives.  For starters, many of the turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass are older generation technology.  They could be replaced with newer turbines that generate more energy.   Also, Los Angeles was on to a good thing when it opened up its feed-in-tariff to generate local clean energy by placing solar panels on rooftops and parking lotsIndustrializing the desert may be the quickest way for CalWEA to make money, but it is not the most sustainable way for us to generate clean energy.

The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign gathered to welcome one more rooftop that is no longer wasting the sun's energy.  This rooftop solar installation joins tens of thousands in California, with many more to come.  Photo from the Sierra Club.


6 comments:

  1. So how do we band together to break through this error riddled LA Times generated information that's being spoon fed to the public?

    I still don't understand why industrial wind and solar aren't on the beaches along the coast where the wind blows consistently and the sun shines bright off the water? The power should be placed close to where the people live, not out in the fragile desert and mountains. The desert areas are 100 to 200 miles away from the clusters of people in cities. This is totally nuts.

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  2. So how do we band together to break through this error riddled LA Times generated information that's being spoon fed to the public as green and clean?

    I still don't understand why industrial wind and solar aren't on the beaches along the coast where the wind blows consistently and the sun shines bright off the water? The power should be placed close to where the people live, not out in the fragile desert and mountains. The desert areas are 100 to 200 miles away from the clusters of people in cities. This is totally nuts.

    To be clear. I live in the Tehachapi Pass and both the County of Kern Supervisors and developers have run right over the residents, completely destroyed the enjoyment of the night sky, continue to move Mojave desert tortoises to unknown locations, permanently destroyed the ecosystems, converted irresplaceable farmland and water shed resources, now held by industrial energy plants. Folks, you can't eat transmission lines, wind turbine towers, solar panels or storage plants.

    Furthermore, AWEA and the wind companies have successfully lobbied for one of the rarest birds on the planet, the California condors to be slaughtered by their experimental machines along with Bald eagles.

    My personal opinion is that these criminals belong behind bars, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife's, Daniel Ashe, the Director, not put on a pedestal by the Los Angeles Times. LA Times, get a conscience.

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  3. I really wish liberals would take some time to think about what they are doing. We are spending time fighting against alternative energy which we can all agree is better than fossil fuel for the planet. How many species are endangered due to coal and oil, and yet we bicker about solar and wind? The faster we can move to solar and wind without these inane protest and bureaucracy the better the earth, the economy and human lives will be. The longer we hold up the development of solar and wind the longer the earth will suffer and more species will go extinct. With any progress there will be some people that will disagree, but I really hope we can do things for the greater good.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tri Tran, I agree that we need to move quickly to shut off fossil fuels and ramp up clean energy. It is technologically possible to do so without destroying hundreds of square miles of intact habitat through investments in energy efficiency, rooftop solar, larger projects on already disturbed lands, etc. The "greater good" you speak of should include all of the natural world.

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  4. I really wish liberals would take some time to think about what they are doing. We are spending time fighting against alternative energy which we can all agree is better than fossil fuel for the planet. How many species are endangered due to coal and oil, and yet we bicker about solar and wind? The faster we can move to solar and wind without these inane protest and bureaucracy the better the earth, the economy and human lives will be. The longer we hold up the development of solar and wind the longer the earth will suffer and more species will go extinct. With any progress there will be some people that will disagree, but I really hope we can do things for the greater good.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really wish liberals would take some time to think about what they are doing. We are spending time fighting against alternative energy which we can all agree is better than fossil fuel for the planet. How many species are endangered due to coal and oil, and yet we bicker about solar and wind? The faster we can move to solar and wind without these inane protest and bureaucracy the better the earth, the economy and human lives will be. The longer we hold up the development of solar and wind the longer the earth will suffer and more species will go extinct. With any progress there will be some people that will disagree, but I really hope we can do things for the greater good.

    ReplyDelete