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Showing posts with the label Desert Sunlight

BrightSource Makes Weak Case for Palen Solar Project

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BrightSource Energy filed a relatively weak argument for why the California Energy Commission (CEC) should reconsider its opinion of the Palen Solar project in the Colorado Desert region of southern California.  A Presiding Member Proposed Decision in December recommended that the full Commission reject the project primarily because of the impacts on wildlife, but BrightSource requested more time so that it could make a stronger case that its project would not be a problem for wildlife.

The data submitted by BrightSource suggests its design is likely more harmful to birds than other types of technology, and that if the Palen project is built it would add significantly to the cumulative impact on birds in the Chuckwalla Valley region and pose new dangers.   The data submitted by BrightSource compares bird mortality at its Ivanpah Solar project - located further north near Las Vegas - to the Genesis and Desert Sunlight Solar projects in the Chuckwalla Valley area.  In the few months tha…

Desert Solar Killing Water Birds

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Birds that are typically only found along rivers and at lakes are turning up dead at industrial-scale solar plants in the middle of the desert, according to KCET's ReWire, probably dying of thirst or collision with reflective solar panels.  The birds almost certainly are attracted to the facilities from far away because the field of reflective solar panels or troughs appear as a body of water. 

KCET's ReWire did some research and found that 37 dead or injured birds have been found at the newly-constructed Desert Sunlight (built by First Solar) and Genesis (built by NextEra) solar projects near Joshua Tree National Park.  More than half of the birds are water birds, possibly straying from their normal habitat at the Salton Sea or Colorado River dozens of miles away.  An endangered Yuma clapper rail was found at First Solar's Desert Sunlight solar project, which is at least 35 miles from the bird's nearest habitat.  It is not clear if more birds have already been killed…

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects.

Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow; and still pending environmental review and approval in GreenAll told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could be des…

Desert Peaks: Then and Now

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In late 1952, Sierra Club member Bill Henderson roused excitement during a New Year's party for the Club's Desert Peaks section for an adventurous hike into the Coxcomb Mountains in present-day Joshua Tree National Park.  Written up in the Sierra Club Bulletin and Desert Magazine, the desert explorers reached the roughly 4400 foot high summit without trails.  As Louise Werner wrote in the May 1953 issue of Desert Magazine, "[t]he view to the southeast encouraged speculation and planning for future climbs. Range after range of desert mountains stretched as far as we could see: the Palens, the Granites, the Little Marias, the Big Marias.  Like an undulating carpet of chocolate-brown velvet, they stretched to the vanishing point."

Today, that same view is threatened by both climate change and industrial-scale renewable energy projects.  Developers have plans -- or have already begun construction -- on solar projects in many of the valleys in view from the Coxcomb summit…

First Solar Meddling in Riverside County Election?

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First Solar is putting its money behind a candidate running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors who has a long record of turning a blind eye to toxic chemicals in our community and environment, according to campaign finance records.  First Solar almost certainly is trying to position itself to influence Riverside County policies after the current Board of Supervisors instituted a per acre fee on industrial scale solar facilities in the desert region.  The Board in November approved the fee for solar projects larger than 20 megawatts because such large facilities in remote areas incur substantial burden on county services and also are a cause of visual blight with new transmission lines.  The fees can be offset by various incentives if, for example, the solar developers do not require new transmission lines or if they hire local workers.

The costs of providing county services to industrial solar projects can be substantial.  Inyo County calculated that BrightSource Energy'…

Beyond the Reid Gardner Coal Plant

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Leaving Las Vegas is easy when you love the Mojave.  Once you escape the maze of billboards, glitzy hotels, and miles of stucco-clad houses, you'll cross some wide open desert that will liberate you from an otherwise hurried existence.  As the city guzzles water and cranks up massive air conditioners, the desert's incredible array of life -- tortoises, kit foxes, jackrabbits, owls, hawks, eagles, Creosote,  Mojave yucca, blackbrush, white bursage, and countless wildflower species -- have endured the test of time.

You have to appreciate the small stuff in the desert.  The signs of life that betray the ignorant notion that this place is a wasteland.  Narrow pathways well worn into the desert ground by rodents scurrying to and from shrubs and burrows.  A wren's nest deep within the spiny arms of a cholla cactus.  A loggerhead shrike perched on a Mojave yucca that may not be much taller than a human but probably more than 300 years old.  All of these forming an intricate web o…

Photos of Solar Done Wrong

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Despite a UCLA study indicating that the County of Los Angeles has enough suitable rooftop space for solar panels to meet local energy demand, the State of California and Bureau of Land Management are permitting unprecedented destruction of America's desert landscapes for utility-scale solar facilities hundreds of miles away from urban areas.   One of those projects is First Solar's Desert Sunlight facility that will cover nearly 6 square miles of ecologically intact public lands right next to Joshua Tree National Park.

The Desert Sunlight project would generate about 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity.  For comparison, California's peak electricity demand has reached nearly 52,800 MW.  Meeting our energy needs with projects like Desert Sunlight would require over 100 more of such destructive facilities. And then repeat this destruction in every other state to meet their energy demands.  This is madness and simply unsustainable.

Author Chris Clarke recently had the opportuni…

Images of Desert Sunlight Project Don't Lie

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The news website MyDesert.com posted a video tour of First Solar's Desert Sunlight project under construction.  Once the project is finished, nearly 6 square miles of creosote bush scrub habitat for desert tortoises, kit fox, burrowing owls, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard will be destroyed just outside Joshua Tree National Park.  The Sierra Club and other national environmental organizations approved of the project, even though the photovoltaic solar panel technology could have been installed on rooftops or already-disturbed land without destroying wildlands.

Although the First Solar employee interviewed in the video feeds company talking points to the reporter, the images in the background cannot lie.  What was once ecologically intact desert on public lands has been bulldozed and flattened.   Here are some of the screenshots from the MyDesert.com video, with the video embedded below.  The pictures show thousands of steel poles drilled into the ground. The loss of topsoil and nati…

Environmentalism for the 1%

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The departure of the Sierra Club's chairman -- Carl Pope -- comes during a dark moment for environmentalism.  The vanguards of the green movement have compromised their core conservation ethic, forging alliances with corporations and ignoring the grassroots in order to make way for an unchecked renewable energy industry that is more intent on destroying public lands than saving them.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlights how Pope may be a casualty of this attempt to gain influence in Washington and Wall Street, but his approach has been practiced by other national environmental groups,  including the Wilderness Society, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.  These groups have desperately sought acceptance among business and political elites, painting themselves as job creators by selling out America's landscapes to big wind and solar firms, and then bragging about the jobs they have supported.  What have they gained? Loss of respect among th…

A Distracted Washington is Missing an Opportunity

Congress will attempt to grill Solyndra executives today to figure out why the ill-fated company received over 500 millions dollars from the Department of Energy loan guarantee program.  Just yesterday, First Solar Inc announced that it could not receive a DOE loan guarantee for its Topaz solar power project in California, which would destroy over 6 square miles of the Carrizo Plain.  First Solar's stock dropped to record lows as disappointed investors walked away. But First Solar's stock had already been dropping because of worries that the Solyndra scandal and a faulty White House investment strategy would undermine First Solar's other loan guarantees, including one for the Desert Sunlight project near Joshua Tree National Park.  Obama's energy policy has converted our fledgling clean energy sector into a casino, where big rollers can cart off public land and taxpayer money, and losers go bankrupt or watch their stock prices tumble?

The Obama administration chose to …