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Showing posts with the label CEC

Bird Deaths at Ivanpah Solar Project Likely Underestimated

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Birds with severely singed feathers are travelling over a half-mile from the center of the Ivanpah Solar project before falling to the ground, indicating that current research efforts are incapable of accounting for the full scope of project-related avian fatality.  Abengoa recently withdrew plans for a similar "power tower" project after acknowledging concerns about the technology's impact on wildlife, but also suggesting that the technology's benefits are uncertain and unreliable.

Birds Dying Beyond the Reach of Research?

Efforts to determine how many birds are killed by the project involve carcass surveys of only 29% of the project area and do not involve significant searches of the desert surrounding the Ivanpah Solar project's boundary.  According to the 2014-2015 Winter Report for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Avian & Bat Monitoring Plan, (covering 21 October 2014 to 15 March 2015), seven birds with singed feathers were found far from the…

DRECP: Is the New Approach a Threat or Opportunity?

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The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) agencies announced this week that they would adopt a phased approach to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in response to widespread concern about the proposed endangered species permitting mechanism and conflict with county land use plans.   Under this approach, the more contentious aspects of the DRECP will be further refined after additional consultation with the counties and rolled out at a later date.

The first phase will amend the land use planning for Federal lands in the California desert, establishing both conservation and development focus areas.  The second phase will establish development areas on private lands as well as the streamlined permitting process for renewable energy projects under State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.  Reactions to the phased approach range from concern to relief.

Will Desert Conservation Move Forward?

How well the first phase is received will depend largely on whether or not the B…

The DRECP: To Protect or Undo the Desert?

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The Department of Interior this week will unveil the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and it is a big deal.  The DRECP will establish "development focus areas" where the review and approval of large-scale renewable energy projects will be streamlined, and will identify other lands for additional conservation measures.  How much of each - destruction and conservation - and which lands will be affected will be revealed in the draft later this week. 

The DRECP is a big deal because it will propose the most significant changes to how we manage the California desert since Congress first ordered Interior to take better care of the of these lands decades ago.  In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that ordered Interior to establish the California Desert Conservation Area Plan (CDCA) "to provide for the immediate and future protection and administration of the public lands in the California desert within the framework of a …

How Much is Too Much Heat for Birds?

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In testimony submitted in advance of California Energy Commission (CEC) evidentiary hearings scheduled for the end of this month, the CEC staff estimates that the impact of heated air above BrightSource's proposed Palen hybrid solar and natural gas project may result in as much as 2.5 times more bird deaths than at the BrightSource's Ivanpah hybrid project (I use the term "hybrid" because Ivanpah will burn nearly 525 million standard cubic feet  of natural gas, annually.  Palen will burn at least 728 million standard cubic feet of gas, annually.  Unlike photovoltaic solar projects, BrightSource's power tower design needs fossil fuels to warm up the boilers that also convert the sun's energy into electricity).
BrightSource has argued that birds are only at risk of death from solar flux (air heated by the concentration of the solar mirror field) in the air space close to the power tower where the heat is most intense.  CEC staff, however, assesses that birds a…

Ivanpah's Toll on Wildlife Mounts

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According to reports sent monthly to the California Energy Commission, the NRG and BrightSource Ivanpah Solar project in California continues to incinerate and batter birds and bats, even though the plant is often not running at full capacity.   As many as 165 birds and four bats have been found dead on the project site from February to the end of April, and 6 birds have been found injured.  These numbers are probably only a fraction of the total mortality since surveys cannot cover the whole project site, and it is possible some birds and bats die after flying beyond the project boundary or their carcasses are picked up by scavengers.  As KCET ReWire points out, some of the bird deaths in April were water birds, suggesting they may have flown to the shimmering mirrors of the solar project thinking it was a body of water.




Many of the birds were killed after being burned by the super-heated air above the project site, while others likely collided with one of the thousands of giant mirr…

Conservation Groups Weigh in on Destructive BrightSource Projects

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The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and NRDC have expressed concerns about BrightSource Energy's choice of project sites on desert habitat, recommending that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reject power purchase agreements (PPA) between BrightSource and Southern California Edison (SCE), according to letters filed with CPUC.  The CPUC was already looking into concerns that BrightSource's projects would sell electricity to the utility company at highly uncompetitive prices when compared to other renewable energy options. BrightSource Energy, which is responsible for displacing or killing hundreds of desert tortoises for its Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert, may have trouble financing and building two of its projects if CPUC rejects the PPAs.

Rio Mesa Solar Project Would Batter, Blind and Burn Birds The Sierra Club's submission to the CPUC expressed concern that BrightSource Energy's proposal to build  the massive Rio Mesa solar…

BLM Voices Concerns Over BrightSource Water Use

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BLM sent a letter to the California Energy Commission (CEC) this month recommending stronger measures to mitigate or monitor BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project.  If approved, the project would be built in the Pahrump Valley next to th California-Nevada border, and draw an estimated 227.1 million gallons of water during a 29-month construction period, and 45.6 million gallons each year during operation.  Groundwater is already severely overdrawn in the Pahrump Valley, causing subsidence in the land that may ultimately reduce. the amount of water that can be stored.

BLM provided the following photo of large cracks in the land near the proposed Hidden Hills solar site-- an indication of subsidence resulting from overdrawn groundwater.

In its submission to the CEC, BLM noted that simply requiring BrightSource to replace extracted water at some point over the expected 30 year life of the project may not be sufficient given the current severity of groundwater short…

Big Solar Seeks Path of Least Resistance

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) on 14 December will meet to consider a proposed decision that would allow solar companies to select whether to submit to local or State (CEC) review when building large photovoltaic solar facilities on public land.  This is important in the near term particularly for the Ridgecrest Solar power project, a proposed facility that would decimate a Mohave ground squirrel connectivity corridor and a robust desert tortoise population.  In the long term, the rule change would give big solar companies the ability to choose what they think will be the path of least resistance to build projects that destroy vast swaths of public land.    Although the CEC has previously opposed the Ridgecrest project, it's approval of several other projects has earned it a reputation as the place where solar companies go for fast-track approval that often ignores environmental and cultural destruction.  It's this reputation that makes people nervous about a regulatio…

Environmental Groups Warn Interior on Calico Solar Project

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Three environmental groups--the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Natural Resources Defense Council--threatened to take legal action in Federal court against the Department of Interior's approval of the Calico solar power project, urging instead that it be built on already-disturbed lands.   The challenge represents the most significant step taken by these environmental groups to establish principles in what has otherwise been a rush by the Obama administration to industrialize public lands in the name of "green" energy. 

The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium.  The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impacts o…

Solar Millennium Uncertain About Destructive Blythe Project

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According to Forbes, German firm Solar Millennium and its American front company - Solar Trust of America - have announced that they will not accept the 2.1 billion dollar Federal loan guarantee for the Blythe solar power project, and they are now going to use photovoltaic technology (the same panels used on rooftops!).  The company switched to photovoltaic (PV) technology from the antiquated solar trough design because PV is much more cost efficient.  However, the company's change in technology represents a significant departure from its original project application and may require additional environmental review.  The abrupt change in plans may have been the reason the company abandoned the Federal loan, which was granted based on its original solar trough plans.  The company will have to compete for private investments as the markets are taking an ugly turn.

Initial construction for the 11 square-mile Blythe solar project has already destroyed sites considered sacred by Native …

Destructive Ridgecrest Solar Project in Limbo

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German firm Solar Millennium LLC, and its American front company ("Solar Trust of America") recently decided to change the proposed Ridgecrest Solar power project from all concentrating solar thermal mirrors to photovoltaic panels (PV), a more economically efficient technology.  However, when Solar Millennium asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) for permission to modify its Ridgecrest project to PV technology,  the CEC staff declined to continue certification for the project and is likely to relinquish jurisdiction to another authority.  The CEC only reviews and certifies thermal energy projects, and PV technology is not classified as thermal.  The legal snag is likely to further delay consideration of the project, which the CEC staff previously assessed to be poorly sited and likely to have significant negative impacts on desert wildlife. 

Solar Millennium is desperately trying to fit a square through a round hole with the Ridgecrest project.  After the CEC staff an…

Calico Solar Right of Way In Jeopardy

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Last month I wrote about the Calico Solar power project because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted Tessera Solar LLC permission to build a solar facility on pristine desert that Tessera never had the capacity to build in the first place, according to information put forward in legal proceedings.  Tessera Solar then sold its permission to build on 7 square miles of public land--called a "right-of-way" grant (ROW)--to a company called K Road Sun.  The BLM now considers the Calico Solar ROW to be "inoperative," and will not allow construction to proceed on the pristine desert until a new environmental analysis is completed, according to information provided by the BLM to the US District Court on 6 June.

K Road Sun modified Tessera Solar's original plans to include a different mix of solar technology, but still planned to use Tessera's "SunCatcher" dishes.  The SunCatcher technology is a major sticking point --if the SunCatchers cannot be mass…

BLM Lifts Hold on Ivanpah Construction but Hurdles Loom

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lifted a stop-work order on BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System last week, but a legal challenge still hovers over the solar project.  BLM halted work on most of the site in April after new estimates showed that the project could kill or displace hundreds of tortoises on the 5.6 square mile site and adjacent lands.  According to government documents:
"We anticipate that construction of the [Ivanpah] project site is likely to take, in the form of mortality or injury, between 405 and 1136 desert tortoises... We anticipate that the vast majority of these will be individuals of smaller size or desert tortoise eggs that are difficult to detect during clearance surveys and construction monitoring; therefore, we are unlikely to find carcasses of these individuals."
After reissuing the biological opinion, the BLM determined that despite the project tortoise deaths, the project will not "jeopardize" the threate…

Have We Been Fooled by Calico Solar?

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This is the story of a solar power project that was approved by State and Federal Governments even though the energy company had no way of building it in the first place.  The representatives of the taxpayer are now being asked to turn a blind eye, once again.

Fool me once, shame on you....
Last fall the California Energy Commission (CEC) and Department of Interior approved Tessera Solar LLC's proposal to bulldoze 7 square-miles of public land for a solar power facility in the central Mojave Desert.  Both Washington and Sacramento acknowledged the significant environmental damage the project would cause to the pristine desert habitat, but rushed to approve it so Tessera Solar could qualify for over a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed stimulus funding.  The government approved the project on the basis that Tessera Solar would install thousands of SunCatcher dishes--an unproven and complicated piece of machinery.  

It turns out Tessera Solar may have misrepresented its ability to buil…