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Showing posts with the label Palen

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…

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…

BrightSource Underperforming; Adds Fossil Fuels

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) last week signaled support for BrightSource Energy's request to increase natural gas use at the Ivanpah Solar project to nearly 525 million standard cubic feet each year to help heat steam when the sun is not shining.   BrightSource's request to burn more natural gas underscores the difficulty the company has had with its experimental power tower project, even as the company proposes building the even larger Palen Solar project east of Joshua Tree National Park.  The difficulties at Ivanpah - increased fossil fuel use, impacts on birds and bats, and poor operational performance - undermine the company's argument that the CEC should approve Palen because of the project's proposed renewable energy and storage benefits.
According to supplemental analysis submitted by CEC staff for the Palen Solar project, the Ivanpah multifuel project was only online for a fraction of the anticipated capacity (see chart below) from January to March 2…

Sierra Club Joins Opposition to Palen Solar Project

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The Sierra Club filed a petition this month opposing BrightSource Energy's plans to build the nearly six square mile Palen Solar power project in the Colorado Desert between Joshua Tree National Park and Blythe, California.  Although the California Energy Commission (CEC) denied the Sierra Club's petition to formally participate in evidentiary hearings regarding the project, the Sierra Club's public opposition adds to the persistent environmental concerns expressed by desert conservationists, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Basin and Range Watch.

What makes the proposed Palen Solar project remarkable is its solar power tower technology, which appears to burn insects and birds alive, according to biologists and the study of a similar power plant design from the 1980s. BrightSource and NRG's Ivanpah Solar project is believed to be responsible for a mounting wildlife death toll in the northeastern Mojave Desert, and biologists are just beginning to study…

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…

BrightSource Energy Design Too Risky for Wildlife

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BrightSource Energy's plans to build the Palen Solar power project in the California desert were cast in doubt last week when the California Energy Commission (CEC) proposed to deny a permit for the facility because of its impacts on wildlife.  The denial could spell doom for BrightSource Energy, which has invested heavily in a solar power plant design that has become notorious for its troubling impacts on wildlife -  destroying rare plants and habitat for terrestrial wildlife, and burning birds to death.
BrightSource's Palen project would involve thousands of mirrors spread out over nearly 5.9 square miles to focus the sun's energy to heat boilers on the top of two towers - each over 750 feet tall.  The focused energy would create super-heated pockets of air; the super-heated air created at the company's Ivanpah Solar project in the Mojave Desert has already killed dozens of birds. BrightSource paid experts and lawyers to urge the CEC to approve its Palen Solar pro…

BrightSource Palen Solar Project Moving Through Environmental Review

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) this month published part of its Final Staff Assessment for BrightSource Energy's Palen Solar power project.  After evidentiary hearings this fall, the CEC plans to decide whether to approve the project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley between Indio and Blythe, resulting in the destruction of up to 5.9 square miles of desert habitat that currently hosts kit foxes, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, and burrowing owls.  Biologists are concerned that the project would not only disrupt sand transport through the valley that sustains fringe-toed lizard habitat, but also pose a collision and burn risk to a variety of birds, from golden eagles to the endangered Yuma clapper rail.
The size of the project is difficult to imagine, so I provide a comparison of the project footprint (red overlay, below) to the city of Palm Springs.  BrightSource Energy says the facility would generate 500 megawatts of energy through steam boilers positioned on two 750-foot t…

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…

BrightSource Suspends Rio Mesa Project

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Luckily for the birds using habitat along the Colorado River, part of the bird migratory corridor known as the Pacific Flyway, BrightSource Energy has temporarily suspended its plans to develop the Rio Mesa Solar project.  The California Energy Commission (CEC) staff, wildlife officials and conservation groups expressed concern during environmental review that the project's proposed location and design -- involving the solar power tower technology -- puts birds at risk of collision with the project's thousands of mirrors, or risk of eye damage and burning from superheated air above the project. 

Another downside of the Rio Mesa Project that likely stalled its environmental review is the fact that BrightSource Energy chose a location that contains a lot of microphyll woodland habitat.  According to the CEC preliminary staff assessment, the microphyll woodland habitat type "support[s] 85 percent of all bird nests built in the Colorado Desert, despite accounting for onl…

Center for Biological Diversity Opposes Palen Solar Project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) rejected a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) opposing the Palen Solar power project.  The CEC approved the project, proposed by Solar Millennium LLC for nearly 8 square miles of the Chuckwalla Valley, in December.  CBD argues that the CEC violated California law when it approved the Palen Solar project before the Department of Interior gave its final approval to the project, which will have direct and indirect impacts on critical habitat and wildlife management areas.  The Commission is under immense political pressure to favor energy companies in its decisions, and has been heavily criticized for bending and breaking laws to permit fast-track solar power projects.

California State public resources code requires that the State not permit any facility on lands designated for wildlife protection until the land management agency has approved the project.  According to Interior's website for the project, Federal approval has n…

Palen Solar Power project moves forward; Imperial Solar Threatens Cultural Heritage

The California Energy Commission (CEC) provided preliminary approval for a solar power project that will consume almost 8 square miles of mostly public land near the Palen Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and that would disturb part of the designated Chuckwalla Critical Habitat Unit for the desert tortoise.  The Palen Solar power project is being proposed by Chevron and a subsidiary it created, Solar Millennium LLC.

The CEC is requesting that Solar Millennium LLC build a reconfigured layout and not the initial proposal in order to reduce (but not eliminate) impacts to Mojave Fringe Toed Lizard habitat.  However, the project would also disrupt desert tortoise linkages since it would block multiple washes that allow them to travel under Interstate 10.  If built, the project would probably slow genetic ties between the tortoise populations north and south of the Interstate.  Defender's of Wildlife proposed that Solar Millennium and the CEC should reduce the project by ha…

Chuckwalla Valley Under Siege

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The Chuckwalla Valley in California's Colorado Desert is currently being considered for multiple solar energy projects, and has also been targeted for development in the Federal government's solar energy study zones.  The largest solar power project in California, the Blythe Solar power project proposed by Solar Millennium LLC, already received approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC), and NextEra's Genesis Solar power project received preliminary approval.   Both of these projects are proposed for public lands.

These two projects alone would fence off and bulldoze over 10,000 acres, and as you can see in the graphic below, the desert valley that currently is home to desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, bighorn sheep, lynx, burrowing owls, and kit fox will be transformed into an industrial zone if all of the remaining projects are approved.

The next project currently awaiting CEC preliminary approval is the Palen Solar power project, which would be locat…

Are Mega-Solar Farms Viable?

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I was looking at the Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Statement, and the California Energy Commission (CEC) Staff included some maps of other major energy projects proposed for the Northeastern Colorado Desert.  Some of the projects that have been proposed by have not begun CEC review are massive, and dwarf sites that have already been deemed to be harmful to desert wilderness in California.  As the mega-sites--some of which are several times larger than LAX--begin the biological surveys we are bound to learn of potential consequences for the desert that are far greater in magnitude than we have seen with other projects covered on this blog.

Some of the solar sites well into the CEC/BLM review process that have been featured on this blog are large in their own right.  Ivanpah--located in the Eastern Mojave--will have a site footprint of approximately 3,200 acres.  The Palen project--in the Colorado Desert--will have a footprint of approximately 2,970 acres.   Ridgecrest …

Palen Solar Power Project Environmental Impact Summary

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Once again I'll stray from the namesake of the blog and address an industrial project proposed for the Colorado Desert (a subzone of the Sonoran Desert).  Since the recent gold rush of solar projects will have impacts that affect species that roam to and from the Mojave Desert and neighboring Colorado Desert, I've been tracking projects throughout southern California.

The Palen Solar Power Project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley in California would have significant impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.  Basin and Range Watch actually has an excellent summary of the most important points to take away from the EIS, and you can check it out at this link to their site.  As noted in the California Energy Commission (CEC) report, and summarized by Basin and Range Watch, the transport of sand through the valley would be impeded by the project if it is built as proposed.  This would affect approximately 1,400 acres of sand dune habitat downwind from the site.  This is significa…

Review of Riverside County Solar Projects in Initial Stages

The California Energy Commission (CEC) invited the public to view three proposed solar energy sites near Blythe, California.  The three projects include:
1.) Rice Solar Power Project (Solar Reserve LLC asking for approximately 1,370 acres)
2.) Palen Solar Power Project (Solar Millenium asking for 5,200 acres)
3.) Blythe Solar Power Project (Solar Millenium asking for 9,400 acres)

It appears that Palen and Blythe will be the largest plants in terms of energy output (which usually equates to larger footprint in the desert, as well), and all three projects would utilize dry-cooling technology, reducing the amount of water taken from local aquifers.

If you want to follow the proceedings of each CEC review process you can clink on either three of the links above and sign up for the corresponding list-serve, or you can check back here for updates as I plan to keep track of the processes myself.  You can read this posting from November for background on the CEC process as it applied to a sep…