Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Destructive Ivanpah Solar Project To Finally Start Operations

Government officials and executives are expected to flip the switch on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on February 13, over three years after BrightSource Energy and its lead investor, NRG, began bulldozing pristine desert to build the project.   During the 3+ years it took these companies to replace over 5.6 square miles of intact ecosystem to build 377 megawatts of solar capacity, Californians have added at least twice as much solar capacity with panels installed on rooftops or over parking lots, and even more capacity has been added with utility-scale projects built on already-disturbed lands.

Years of public relations efforts by NRG and BrightSource have not changed the fact that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the eastern Mojave Desert arguably represents one of the most destructive renewable energy projects permitted on public lands by the Obama administration.  The Ivanpah Solar project is to the Mojave what oil drilling would be to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge- unnecessarily destruction with the proven risk of ongoing impacts to wildlife from operations.  The Ivanpah Solar project is yet another monument testifying to an unsustainable centralized grid that incents corporate destruction of public lands, and ignores the spaces in our cities and already-disturbed lands that are perfectly capable of generating energy from the sun.
  • The Ivanpah Solar project literally burns birds to death in mid-flight. The super-heated air above the thousands of mirrors singes the birds' feathers and eyes within seconds, causing them to fall to their death.  During initial operational testing so far, over 70 birds have been burned to death or severely injured at the project, including warblers, gnatcatchers, and falcons.  Surveys may not be discovering all of the fatalities because of the immense size of the project and potential that scavengers move carcasses before they are found. 
  • The Ivanpah Solar project has displaced or killed over 173 desert tortoises since construction began, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The impacts far exceeded estimates during initial environmental review for the project.
  • BrightSource and NRG have spent over 22 million dollars caring for tortoises displaced by the massive project.  If the project were not built on prime desert tortoise habitat, that money could have been invested in more clean energy.
  • The project was built on approximately 5.6 square miles of high quality desert tortoise habitat  that the Fish and Wildlife Service warned also serves as a fragile and important connectivity corridor for the species, maintaining its resilience in the face of climate change and other human threats.  Environmental groups asked BrightSource Energy to consider alternative project locations and designs, but the company ignored these alternatives.
  • NRG and BrightSource like to point out that the nearby Primm golf course uses more water than the Ivanpah Solar project, which uses dry cooling technology.  While this is true, the Ivanpah Solar project has destroyed several times more habitat than the golf course, and adds to the cumulative demand on local groundwater sources.
  • NRG and Brightsource have also argued that the Ivanpah Valley is of no ecological value because there is already a golf course, a highway, and gambling outpost that disrupt the desert habitat.  However, the Ivanpah Solar project more than doubles the amount of development in the valley.  Applying this twisted evaluation of wildlands to other beloved natural treasures would mean places like the Yosemite Valley are not worth saving, since roads, shops and hotels also dot that landscape.  If the Ivanpah Solar project were actually built in Yosemite, it would consume nearly the entire valley.
  • The Ivanpah Solar project is built far outside of the "Solar Energy Zones" identified by the Department of Interior in 2012 as appropriate places for solar projects on public lands. The Fish and Wildlife Service and many conservation groups have determined that the Ivanpah Valley is an inappropriate place for utility-scale energy development.
Now that BrightSource and NRG have done their damage, it is now a question of whether or not the Obama administration will approve more projects here, despite concerns from conservationists and biologists.

[Click on image to expand] The Ivanpah Solar project (in red) is multiple times larger than the Primm Golf course, and extends deep into prime desert tortoise habitat.

[Click on image to expand]  To give you a sense of the scale of Ivanpah, the project footprint (white outline) is compared to Google Earth imagery of the Yosemite Valley.


This image of the Ivanpah Solar project taken from miles away in the Mojave National Preserve during initial operational testing in September 2013 shows the glare of thousands of mirrors.  The shiny "lake effect" may confuse migrating birds into thinking the project is a body of water, and damages visual resources for users of public lands.





 A screenshot from Avian Mortality at a Solar Energy Power Plant (1986), a study by Michael McCrary and others at a solar power tower plant in California that found these birds burned by the super-heated air generated by the mirrors focusing the suns rays at central points above ground.  The study also found that most birds probably died from collisions with the mirrors.  The study focused on a small 10 megawatt solar power tower project on 72 acres near Barstow, CA.  The Ivanpah Solar project is over 48 times larger than the Solar One project, which has since been dismantled.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you, sir, for your good work. I am linking your blog posts to my Facebook page, as others can do to spread the word.

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  2. Excellent critique - sharing widely!

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