There is certainly a need to quickly ramp up our renewable energy generation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ward off human-induced climate change. But a misguided few use this necessity to push one of the most greedy and destructive movements America's wildlands will ever see, arguably on par with the projected damage these lands are expected to experience as a result of climate change.
Dead Birds, Smashed TortoisesThe Department of Interior and the Obama administration have not conducted an honest assessment of the cumulative impacts of their renewable energy campaign, and concerned citizens are ringing the alarm already. It's not just the financial costs (a single 5.6 square mile solar facility in the Mojave Desert will receive nearly 1.6 billion dollars in taxpayer backed financing), but these large projects will be strewn about once-pristine land, and decimate already imperiled plant and wildlife populations.
The BLM reports that the proposed wind projects for California would generate 2,233 megawatts (MW). According tot he American Bird Conservancy, wind turbines can kill up to 14 birds, per MW, per year. So if all of the proposed wind projects are built in California, nearly 31,262 birds could die each year. Golden eagles, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, Le Conte's Thrasher, California Condors--anything that flies. The projects also require miles of new access roads, which fragment the surrounding habitat and etch barren paths that take generations for desert ecosystems to repair.
Large solar projects will bring bulldozers to habitat where well-adapted and beautiful organisms have learned to thrive. Deesert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Mohave ground squirrel, and flat-tailed horned lizard have found themselves in the headlines as victims of solar facilities, but all life in the desert is a miracle. The low-lying shrubs you see all throughout the desert--many are no taller than a human--can be centuries old. Wildflower seeds lay dormant for years waiting for the perfect amount of rain before putting on dazzling displays. Mowing down beautiful yucca plants or a smashed tortoise is not the image of "green energy" that solar companies want you to see.
The Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert, for example, is projected to displace or kill over 160 adult tortoises, and kill hundreds of juvenile tortoises, which are harder to spot and avoid during construction. This is a testament to the high quality habitat on the site, and the poor choice made by BrightSource Energy to build on pristine desert. A separate project in the central Mojave Desert proposed by K Road Power would imperil dozens of tortoises and one of the last remaining pockets of the white-margined beardtongue, a rare desert flowering plant.
|This photo from Basin and Range Watch shows wide access roads carved to reach a large wind energy project in the western Mojave Desert.|
And do not forget that all of these projects in the middle of our open spaces will require new transmission lines. Each one requires miles of new access roads and construction activity. The transmission towers create new hazards to birds, and scar scenic vistas.
|Multiple transmission lines scar the Antelope Valley in the western Mojave Desert. A new transmission line is being added to carry wind energy from fields of bird-killing wind turbines along the Tehachapi mountains and once undisturbed desert.|
Smarter distributed generation, such as rooftop solar, is slowly taking root, but multi-billion dollar banks and energy companies are lobbying Congress and Sacramento to clear the wrong path for large scale projects. They complain that environmental review mechanisms--the same ones we expect to prevent oil spills, carbon emissions, or extinction of plant and wildlife--are too cumbersome. Solar and wind energy companies have more in common with coal and oil than you would think--they expect tax breaks, lax regulation, and unfettered access to public land.
Feed-in-tariffs, PACE financing, and tax incentives for rooftop solar would allow a true change in how we power our homes and businesses. We could also focus on energy conservation. Turning off lights and computers, unplugging energy "vampires", and promoting new energy efficient light bulbs. If we can get America to reinvent itself and give the tax breaks back to the taxpayer, we might end up with more solar panels on rooftops than on public land, lower utility bills and fewer transmission lines.
|Sunset over the Mojave Desert. We must encourage rooftop solar so future generations of Americans can enjoy the unspoilt wilderness of America's southwestern deserts.|