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Showing posts with the label Beacon Solar

Governor of California Underestimates Rooftop Solar in Statement

The Governor of California last week repeated his support for destructive solar facilities on desert wildlands in a statement filed with an inter-agency group tasked with developing a conservation plan for California's treasured deserts.  The paper probably represents the Governor's attempt to argue for large solar in the desert at a time when distributed generation (local clean energy, such as rooftop solar) is making strides as a more efficient and sustainable path.  Although the document was carefully worded not to ignore distributed generation as part of the solution, on balance it implies that large scale projects in the desert are a necessity because distributed generation cannot be deployed fast enough to meet California's renewable energy demand.

The Governor's office subtly distorts the facts in order to exaggerate the need for the controversial destruction of ecologically intact desert lands for large solar facilities.   In a single paragraph describing the…

Top 10 Myths Renewable Energy Companies Want You to Believe

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Big Solar and Wind companies still pretend they can do no harm to the environment, projecting a misleading image that glosses over the damage their projects cause.  We have to face the facts if we're going to chose the right renewable energy path--which is distributed generation (such as rooftop solar), or projects on already disturbed land (such as those identified by the EPA's RE-Powering America's Land program). 

Before I break into the list, I will say that coal and oil companies are also guilty of misinformation, and there is no doubt that their products damage the environment and our health.  But if we are going to prevent renewable energy from taking a path that also destroys our open spaces and wildlands, we need to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Here are the Top 10 myths you will hear from Big Solar and Wind energy company executives:

10.) Bulldozing the land to build massive solar or wind farms may have local impacts, but it will save the rest of the world…

Am I Advocating Sensible Policy or NIMBYism?

I received a thoughtful response to my previous blog post from Ken.  I'm copying the comment and my response below, because I think Ken's questions helped me think more critically about my position on utility-scale solar proposed for California's deserts.  I have noted before on this blog that I do not expect there to be absolutely no development in the Mojave Desert.  This is not a "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) scenario.  The point is to encourage sensible land management in policy that balances the various demands we have for natural resources.  Unfortunately, it is not sensible policy to expect that California's deserts can meet all of our energy needs...

From Ken:
What are your solutions? It is easy to point out environmental shortcomings of any specific method of producing the energy civilization consumes. It is much harder to come up with viable solutions.

I'm not advocating for or against this project, I'm just advocating for everyone to work…

Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems.

The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.  California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy proj…

Desert Expert: Find Another Site for Calico Solar

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Mr James Andre, an expert in desert research who Tessera Solar sought to ban from the Calico Solar evidentiary hearings, submitted a written brief to the California Energy Commission (CEC) in which he recommends that State and Federal agencies provide incentives to Tessera Solar to find a less harmful location for the energy project.

One of the most poignant portions of the brief submitted to the CEC commissioners reminds them of their burden to avoid shortcuts, and think of policy solutions that can accommodate the competing demands of "clean" energy and a sustainable and healthy Mojave Desert ecosystm:

Mr. Andre wrote:
"As the decision-making body for this and subsequent utility-scale solar energy projects, the Commission becomes our representative to future generations."

Mr. Andre argues that the Calico Solar site is of high ecological value for several reasons that represent his expertise in botany:
Tessera Solar's survey method for the White-margined beardto…

Choose Your Solar Site Wisely - Lessons from Ivanpah

If there is one bit of good news from the California Energy Commission's approval of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, it's that energy companies will pay more--millions more--if they want to build on some of the best Mojave Desert habitat.  The Ivanpah Solar site chosen by BrightSource Energy is public land managed by the BLM,  and the company's 392 Mega-Watt plant will destroy 4,000 acres of pristine Mojave Desert habitat there.   The site is home to dozens of endangered desert tortoises, and diverse array of special status and rare plants, to include the Mojave Milkweed and Parish's Club cholla cactus.   It's not clear why BrightSource Energy chose this site out of the millions of acres of potential sites across the sunny Southwest United States.

Instead of abandoning the site for alternative locations of less ecological value, BrightSource Energy insisted on moving forward with it's choice of Ivanpah Valley for construction, despite the concerns…

Governor Dismisses Mojave Wilderness; CDPA 2010 Left Out of Recent Committee Action

You heard it here already -- the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010, or S. 2921) was going to face a lot of hurdles this year, and its chances of making it out of the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources were slim.  However, I found it frustrating to read today that the Senate Committee delivered 18 bills and may deliver another 11 before the Senate recess in August.  CDPA 2010 was not among this list of bills for delivery.  Given the broad support that CDPA 2010 receives from communities, recreation enthusiasts and even energy companies, it was still surprising that CDPA 2010 was not included on the Senate Committee's list of business before August recess.   After Congress resumes business in September, there will not be much time left to conduct legislative business, further reducing the chances that CDPA 2010 will be passed this year.

Meanwhile, the Governor of California mocked the need to protect threatened and endangered species--to include the …

Beacon Solar Approved to Operate in Mojave Desert

In the California Energy Commission's (CEC) first decision among several proposed solar projects under consideration, Beacon Solar was given approval to operate on a portion of former agricultural land near California City, located in the West Mojave Desert.  The Beacon Solar proposal came under scrutiny because it will not use dry-cooling technology, which means it will use 1,400 acre-feet of water per year to cool down the fluid heated by the solar array to produce energy.  That amounts to approximately 456 million gallons of water a year in a State that is historically pushing the limits of its water supply and demand curve, and its not clear that recycled water is a condition of Beacon Solar's certification.

One of the conditions of certification upheld in the presiding member's proposed decision (subject to a 30-day comment period now) includes a number of rules governing Beacon Solar's use of water, to include mandating netting over its evaporation ponds (which c…

West Mojave Solar Proposal to be Water Intensive

Looking over the proposal for the Abengoa Solar's Mojave Solar project description indicates that this plant would use water cooling as opposed to the far more eco-friendly dry-cooling technology proposed in a number of other solar plants.  Just how much water are we talking about?  According to Abengoa Solar, approximately 1,077 acre-feet of water per year for each plant site.  There will be two plant sites.  I had to look it up myself, but a single acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons of water.  In total,  Abengoa's project would consume nearly 350 MILLION gallons of water.  I had to check my math twice.


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This is yet another sign of the immaturity of the solar siting situation in the Mojave Desert.  Companies are rushing to stake a claim without thinking about the impact of the project.  Abengoa was smart enough to locate their project on mostly abandoned agricultural fields, but they're making the same mistake as Beacon Energy…

Solar Power Siting in the Desert Not Yet Matured

California's next gold rush is in full swing as energy speculators scout out new sites for utility-scale solar energy construction. Neither the energy companies, environmentalists, or policy makers seem to have set an efficient process for finding suitable locations for the competing demands, reflecting the immaturity of the solar rush.  It's clear that the different stakeholders in the solar rush have not fully considered their own position, let alone the potential compromises that are needed for a positive outcome.

In a recent editorial, the Los Angeles Times criticized Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010) for not including enough incentives for solar energy development, declaring that CDPA 2010 would set aside too much desert land when solar energy development should be given a higher priority.  Although the editorial acknowledges that the goals of renewable energy and conservation are not mutually exclusive, theLA Times…

Got Water?

Finding a location for industrial growth in the Mojave that provides the most public benefit with the least impact is always the key challenge, and one discussed in other postings on Mojave Desert Blog.  It's unfortunate, then, that the Beacon Solar Energy Project proposed near California City in the Northwestern Mojave is running into a seemingly obvious hurdle.  The project's proposed site is perfect from a biological standpoint -- the land was previously used for agriculture and has little value as habitat.  Developing this land (approximately 2,000 acres) would not deprive endangered species of key habitat but would provide up to 250 MW of renewable energy.

So what's the hold-up?  Water.  The developers want to used cooling technology that requires vast amounts of water.  If built as proposed, the California Energy Commission estimates that the solar project would use 1400 acre feet per year, which is equivalent to about 456 million gallons.

Ironically, other solar ene…