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Showing posts with the label Hidden Hills

BrightSource Cancels Hidden Hills, But Threats Loom

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The Pahrump Valley, a vast stretch of creosote, yucca and Joshua tree that unfolds as you descend from the Spring Mountains, remains the target of extensive development proposals despite a recent decision to terminate a solar power tower project here.  BrightSource Energy this week cancelled its proposal to build the destructive Hidden Hills solar power tower project on the California side of the Pahrump Valley.  The project would have replaced desert habitat with nearly 5 square miles of giant heliostat mirrors and two 750-tall towers that would have burned birds and insects, as is the case with the Ivanpah Solar and Crescent Dunes power tower projects.  Hidden Hills also would have pumped hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater over its construction and operational lifetime from an already-overdrafted basin, threatening wildlife that depend on nearby natural springs.  So it is indeed a relief that the project has been withdrawn.

Towers May Still Loom on the Horizon

In comments…

When Education Becomes "Misuse"

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BrightSource Energy does not want you to see photographs of birds burned by its solar power tower technology, according to an excellent article in the Press-Enterprise.  The company's archaic solar design involves thousands of giant mirrors heating up a cauldron at the top of a tower (taller than the Statue of Liberty) to generate steam.  The company also uses natural gas to keep the boilers warm, so it is not entirely "clean" energy, unless you think fracking is clean.  The air above the field of mirrors can become super-heated, and burn birds' feathers and damage their eyes, according to wildlife experts and a study at a similar facility in the 1980s.

The photos were presented in a special closed door session of the California Energy Commission (CEC) proceeding for BrightSource's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project, only after the CEC issued a subpoena to get them.  According to a BrightSource statement to the Press-Enterprise, the company is afraid of that the…

Southern Nevada Wildlands Face Industrial Transformation

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By 2020, Nevadans may not recognize the once open wildlands they enjoy outside of Las Vegas, as renewable energy corporations backed by Wall Street have proposed to industrialize roughly 410 square miles of desert habitat in nearly every scenic vista within an hour's drive of the metropolis.
A slew of solar companies have applied, or have been approved to construct 19 solar facilities in desert valleys, each consuming several square miles of land.  Wind companies, on the other hand, are exploring options to build 6 different facilities, and the average project would fragment and industrialize over 27 square miles of desert mountains and foothills of southern Nevada.  Transmission lines constitute the third greatest threat to wild lands, as utility companies plan to add dozens of miles of new transmission lines across the region to connect new solar and wind projects to the grid. Doubling Vegas' Sprawl If all of the projects are constructed,  energy companies will have destroyed …

BrightSource Energy's Plans to Limit Environmental Review Meets Resistance

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In an odd legal move, BrightSource Energy is demanding the California Energy Commission (CEC) correct "errors" in the preliminary staff assessment of the company's Hidden Hills solar project.  BrightSource's motion to alter the staff assessment would limit environmental analysis in such a way that improves the company's chances of approval, despite serious concerns about the project's water demand in the overdrawn Pahrump Valley groundwater basin.  The move drew sharp rebuke from the CEC staff and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The company's motion suggests they are worried the CEC will either select the No Action Alternative or require the project to use a different technology, such as photovoltaic solar panels.  Among the specific requests in the motion, BrightSource Energy asks that the staff assessment 1.) define the project's objectives in a way to meet the company's own preferred criteria, 2.) limit analysis of alternatives to technolo…

Hidden Hills Solar: Chorus of Concern Grows

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As BrightSource Energy's construction hums along at its Ivanpah Solar project site in the northeastern Mojave Desert, the company's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project further north is being scrutinized as the California Energy Commission (CEC) accepts comments on a preliminary staff assessment of the project's potential impacts.  As noted earlier on this blog, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was one of the first to note some serious deficiencies in the CEC's staff assessment, with a focus on the project's demand for scarce groundwater supplies.  Since then, several other parties--including Native American tribes, the National Park Service, Center for Biological Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Amargosa Conservancy--have expressed concerns for water and wildlife,  while Inyo County reiterated its expectation that BrightSource Energy compensate it for millions of dollars worth of increased services needed in the remote corner of California where the pr…

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…

BrightSource Solar Project Will Endanger Water Supply in Inyo and Nye Counties

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BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (HHSEGS) is expected to significantly draw down local aquifers in California and Nevada, according to the California Energy Commission, unless the company can buy out local water users.   The solar project would be built on 5 square miles of privately owned land in California's Inyo County, right next to the border with Nye County, Nevada.  The facility would use nearly 45.6 million gallons of water each year for mirror washing and other services during operation, and up to 227.1 million gallons of water during the 29 month construction period.   The CEC's draft certifications would require the company to conduct well monitoring and offset its water draw by purchasing over 53 million gallons each year to restore the Pahrump Valley Groundwater Basin.

The facility's water draw could affect desert springs along the historic Old Spanish Trail that used to provide relief to weary desert travelers a…

BrightSource IPO: Smoke and Mirrors

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BrightSource Energy is planning its initial public offering (IPO) in NASDAQ this week.  This company touts itself as a green messiah bringing us energy from the future, yet its business model is simply unsustainable because it requires vast tracts of land and amounts of water in an ecosystem that already shoulders many public burdens.  And it does not help when they are running into conflict with State and Federal officials.

Outdated Way to Harvest Clean Energy
Unlike Solar City or Sungevity, BrightSource did not get the memo that the sun shines on rooftops and cities as much as it does on remote deserts.  Investing in BrightSource is like investing in a company making gramophones.  BrightSource Energy's facility design -- thousands of large mirrors focusing the sun's rays onto central power towers that heat up and generate energy -- is an archaic and destructive way of harvesting solar energy that requires years of planning, legal challenges, and new transmission lines.  Altho…

BrightSource Balks at Environmental Concerns

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BrightSource Energy is on the defensive as wildlife officials express valid concerns that its proposal to bulldoze 9 square miles of California desert will kill protected raptors and migratory birds, in addition to concerns about other wildlife and rare plants.  BrightSource proposes to build two new projects that involve thousands of large mirrors called "heliostats" that focus the sun's rays at a central point on top of a 750 foot tall "power tower" to heat a steam generator.  The super-heated air around the top of the tower is likely to "incinerate" eagles and other birds that fly above the facility, according to communication between the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  The other major threat will be the thousands of heliostat mirrors that reflect the sky and cause bird collisions.

The Rio Mesa solar project would be built on nearly 9 square miles of public and private lands in a migratory corridor for…