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Showing posts from March, 2013

Sensible Siting

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This photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service's flickr photostream is accompanied by a sensible message about renewable energy -- if we keep renewable energy projects on degraded or already-disturbed lands, we can minimize ecological damage as we transition away from fossil fuels. 
Photo credit: USFWS/Rachel Molenda

Solar Panel
Hopefully this message is heard by decision makers in Washington. At this moment the Bureau of Land Management is considering plans by First Solar to build the Silver State South Solar project on a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage in the Ivanpah Valley, Nevada. Surely there are better places for those solar panels.

Climate Change is Real, and So Is Habitat Loss

The Obama administration this month released the  National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy , which details the threat climate change poses to a variety of ecosystems, and the steps needed to help species cope with what is likely to be long-term damage.

The number one goal identified in the strategy is the conservation of habitat and wildlife linkages to help species adapt and bolster ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.  According to the Strategy:
"Many of our nation’s imperiled species (both those currently listed either as Threatened or Endangered as well as many other species that may eventually be considered for listing) do not occur in existing conservation areas. Indeed, the major threat to many species on the U.S. Endangered Species List is the loss of habitat caused when the habitat they depend on is converted to a different use. Climate change will make the problem worse—and will make the need for new conservation areas more urgent.&qu…

My Generation

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The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign put together a nifty graphic to mark an important milestone: 1,500 megawatts of rooftop solar installed in California. We have a long way to go to match other countries' rooftop solar progress, but this is worth celebrating.  Rooftop solar is bad for coal, and safe for wildlands.


Interior Approves More Desert Destruction; Ignores Sustainable Alternatives

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The Department of Interior yesterday announced final approval for three poorly sited renewable energy projects in America's southwestern deserts that will destroy and industrialize nearly 40 square miles of public lands -- an area larger than the island of Manhattan, and almost as much land area as the City of San Francisco.  None of this destruction is necessary since renewable energy can be more efficiently and more sustainably located in our cities or on already-disturbed lands.

As KCET reported, California has installed 1,500 megawatts of rooftop solar -- an energy output nearly equivalent to three Reid Gardner coal plants.  Elsewhere, solar companies are building hundreds of megawatts of solar on already-disturbed lands, such as agricultural fields.  Renewable energy offers us the alternative to preserve wildlands, but the Department of Interior ignored this alternative when it approved the following three projects:

Searchlight Wind
The Searchlight Wind project will be built …

California Desert Policy Makeover Nears Release

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Updated to include correct version of Alternative 3 map

California's deserts are about to undergo the most sweeping land management policy transformation since the California Desert Conservation Area Plan was implemented in 1980, which itself was a response to Federal legislation passed in 1976.  The Renewable Energy Action Team -- a Federal and State of California inter-agency cohort formed to facilitate utility-scale solar and wind projects in the California desert while attempting to protect habitat and wildlife -- issued a series of documents in December that outline the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The documents provide more details on potential conservation measures and "development focus areas," which would significantly alter land designations for millions of acres in the California Desert Conservation Area.  The documents released do not identify which of the six action alternatives is favored by the REAT agencies, however, keeping us in …

Another Golden Eagle Killed by Industry

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Basin and Range Watch learned from the Bureau of Land Management that another golden eagle was killed, this time at the Spring Valley Wind project built in Nevada's Great Basin desert.  The project -- owned by Pattern Energy -- was built on remote desert wildlands despite concerns from environmental organizations that it could jeopardize a large population of Mexican free-tailed bats.  Spring Valley Wind began operations last year. The wind project is only permitted to kill one eagle, and another eagle death could require the project to curtail operations, although enforcement and compliance are doubtful.

The golden eagle death in Nevada occurs less than two months after NextEra's North Sky River wind project in California killed its first golden eagle, only weeks after beginning operations in the Tehachapi Mountains.  The North Sky River wind project industrialized potential California condor habitat, and was built despite objections from environmental groups (Defenders of Wi…

Rosalie Edge: Hawk of Mercy

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Hawk Mountain -- a ridge in Pennsylvania -- used to be a place where hunters would gun down dozens of raptors in a single day and bird carcasses would litter the hillsides.  Hawks were viewed much like wolves are treated to this day -- as vicious predators -- and hunters would take shots at the birds as they followed currents over the ridge, encouraged by generous bounties paid by the states.   What was then known as the National Association of Audubon Societies (now the National Audubon Society) was slow to pay attention to the killing of raptors, prompting citizen conservationist Rosalie Edge to step in and lease the land in 1934 and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary. 

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary still serves to protect wildlife and promote awareness today, but Rosalie Edge's flavor of activism probably had a more widespread legacy.  Edge founded the Emergency Conservation Committee to advocate for conservation across the United States, including Kings Canyon and Olympic National …

When Education Becomes "Misuse"

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BrightSource Energy does not want you to see photographs of birds burned by its solar power tower technology, according to an excellent article in the Press-Enterprise.  The company's archaic solar design involves thousands of giant mirrors heating up a cauldron at the top of a tower (taller than the Statue of Liberty) to generate steam.  The company also uses natural gas to keep the boilers warm, so it is not entirely "clean" energy, unless you think fracking is clean.  The air above the field of mirrors can become super-heated, and burn birds' feathers and damage their eyes, according to wildlife experts and a study at a similar facility in the 1980s.

The photos were presented in a special closed door session of the California Energy Commission (CEC) proceeding for BrightSource's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project, only after the CEC issued a subpoena to get them.  According to a BrightSource statement to the Press-Enterprise, the company is afraid of that the…

Wind Developer Targets Victor Valley's Juniper Flats

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Chicago-based energy company E ON Climate and Renewables is planning to install 42 wind turbines, each over 400 feet tall, on the Juniper Flats area of Victor Valley.  The company has been testing wind resources in the area since 2010, and submitted notice to the Bureau of Land Management in January of its intent to begin the environmental review process to build the industrial-scale project.  The current right-of-way application spans over 23 square miles of public lands at the foot of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Juniper Flats are a prized recreation area for residents of the Victor Valley, where many enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hang-gliding, and 4x4 driving on designated routes.  The area features riparian habitat that attracts a range of wildlife, including great horned owls, vireos, coyotes, jackrabbits, and an often beautiful wildflower display in the spring.  Community volunteers and the Friends of Juniper Flats have partnered with the Bureau of Land…

State Signals Approval of Keystone Pipeline Project

Far away from the desert, oil tycoons are plotting to build another pipeline to bring their goods to the market. The Keystone XL oil pipeline would connect Canada's tarsands with customers in the US and ports for shipment abroad. The State Department signaled its approval of the pipeline in its draft supplemental environmental impact statement issued today, suggesting the Obama administration continues to hold to its destructive "all of the above" energy policy.

The Keystone pipeline will unleash nearly 800,000 barrels of oil a day, and destroy grasslands in the Midwest.  For the desert, the pipeline will add more climate pressure, as well as insult to injury.  Washington has approved thousands of acres of utility-scale solar and wind facilities on pristine desert habitat with the insincere excuse that it is addressing climate change, and ignoring saner alternatives, such as rooftop solar or facilities built on already-disturbed lands.  This energy policy has run amok, a…