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Showing posts with the label solar

The Future of Zzyzx: Solar Project or Wildlife?

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Here we go again.  Do we allow Bechtel to destroy 3.8 square miles of desert habitat, or keep the wildlands intact to preserve a potential wildlife corridor?  Bechtel's proposed 350 megawatt Soda Mountain Solar project could dry up habitat for an endangered desert fish, and foreclose an opportunity to restore bighorn sheep habitat connectivity.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a draft environmental impact statement that signals likely approval for the Soda Mountain  project, although environmental groups, former National Park superintendents, and other citizens are expressing concern regarding the BLM's environmental review.  Prospects for wildlife are dim, however;  BLM also ignored wildlife concerns and environmental group protests when they approved the Stateline and Silver State South Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  A judge denied a preliminary request from Defenders of Wildlife to stop the Ivanpah projects i…

The Cost of Grid Worship

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) seems to be declaring a truce in a battle that has barely begun in an op-ed it co-authored with California utility company PG&E (yes, the same company that poisoned desert community groundwater with hexavalent chromium to pump natural gas).  While I appreciate the need to exploit opportunities for common good when interests align, I see the NRDC's move as a losing bet for the environment because PG&E fundamentally opposes the opportunity we have today to greatly expand energy efficiency and distributed generation; when PG&E claims support for these, it is usually only because it has been ordered by California regulators to do so.  A utility company's default preference is to build more centralized infrastructure, regardless of whether or not it is efficient or friendly to the environment.  With our planet facing two intertwined crises - global warming caused by our greenhouse gas emissions and the growth of the human pop…

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…

Solar University

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I was reading about NRG Energy, whose CEO has spoken enthusiastically about the potential of distributed generation, and came across a fairly impressive array of solar on rooftops and over parking lots that the company has installed. Although I disagree with the company's investment in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the distributed generation project at Arizona State University is proof of the clean energy we can generate in our cities.  ASU's facilities boast over 20 megawatts of solar panels, and they plan to expand to 25 megawatts.  You can even monitor real time generation statistics at the campus' website.

Back in my own hometown of Victorville, Victor Valley College recently received an award for its own solar installations over parking lots and on already-disturbed lands.  The efficiency and solar investments have so far yielded an annual savings on utility bills of 500 thousand dollars.  The college is also taking out water guzzling lawns and re…

How To Avoid An Ecological Disaster While Solving Another

President Obama announced today his administration's Climate Action Plan, which includes a long overdue directive to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, calls for improving vehicle fuel economy standards,  and raising the bar for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.  All of these are urgent and smart ways to fix our destructive energy paradigm.  In a surprisingly positive shift,  the President also signaled that he may not approve the Keystone oil pipeline if it results in a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the President also outlined plans for continued utility-scale renewable energy expansion; these plans must be reconciled with his administration's unfortunately overlooked effort to protect wildlands and wildlife. The Climate Action Plan only vaguely refers to the fairly comprehensive National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy released by the …

Silurian Valley Still Under Threat of Energy Development

Energy company Iberdrola Renewables is still looking for a way to bulldoze a portion of the Silurian Valley, a quiet desert landscape nearly 15 miles north of the town of Baker, California.  Iberdrola as of last year had plans to build a wind energy project in the Silurian Valley, but likely conflicts with Department of Defense training and testing activities forced the company back to the drawing board.  According to BLM records, Iberdrola is now considering building a large solar project, which probably would sidestep conflicts with Department of Defense interests.

Iberdrola has converted over 10 square miles of its wind energy application to a solar right-of-way application, according to the BLM records, although the company has not given up on its wind application.  The company may not plan to use all 10 square miles of the right-of-way application for the solar project, since the current application only describes a 150 megawatt facility, which would require a much smaller footpr…