Reading the statements and briefs submitted by various interests involved in CPUC's effort to determine how much rooftop solar is worth can seem almost perfunctory and sober to someone who cares a lot about the landscapes affected by large-scale energy generation of any kind - fossil fuels and renewables. I imagine it would feel the same way for soldiers and citizens of two war-torn countries if they had to listen to their elites banter back and forth in protocol-smothered negotiations seeking token face-saving measures to allow peace. Do the people at the table understand the consequences and implications of the outcome? With mountains on the east coast stripped of their coal to feed noxious power plants, and mountains in the west capped with hundreds of 400 foot tall bird and bat-killing wind turbines to power our air conditioners, rooftop solar is an obvious escape from the violence of our current energy paradigm that has ravaged our land and wildlife over the past century. The value that CPUC ultimately sets on the energy generated from solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots will affect how much and how quickly we can generate energy in our cities, rather than destroy our wildlands.
Here is some context for what CPUC is doing. Today, if someone in California installs solar panels on their home or business they can benefit from lower utility bills, and they will be compensated at the full retail rate for any surplus energy generated by the solar panels that is shared with the grid. However, CPUC was tasked by California legislators in 2013 to determine an accurate value for the energy generated by rooftop solar panels (I will call it rooftop solar, but a person might have panels installed over parking lots, or in their own backyard). As you might expect, utility companies want the value to be much lower to protect their own outdated business model.
|A pile of Joshua Trees removed to make way for the Alta Wind Energy Center near Mojave, California. Photo by Friend of Mojave.|
|Victor Valley College installed solar over some of its parking lots, generating clean energy and saving money on its energy bills. A much more sane alternative to bulldozing desert wildlands.|
|This photo shows less than one-third of the Ivanpah Solar project in the Mojave Desert. Nearly 5.6 square miles of high quality and diverse Mojave Desert habitat was bulldozed or mowed down to make way for this project far from our cities. It required a multi-million dollar transmission line upgrade.|
- Habitat loss is chief among these impacts, and it is recognized as one of the most critical threats to many wildlife species; building utility-scale energy plants adds to the problem. The Ivanpah Solar project alone destroyed nearly 5.6 square miles of amazing desert wildlands, and now burns birds and insects in super-heated air created by its mirrors. First Solar is now adding to the destruction in the Ivanpah Valley, bulldozing several more square miles of an important desert tortoise habitat corridor, and one of the company's two projects has already displaced over 150 of the the beleaguered animals. It is difficult to put a monetary value on this destruction, but both companies have paid a total of tens of millions of dollars in a failed attempt to compensate for the destruction.