Posts

Showing posts with the label solar energy

How Can We Ensure a Green Implementation of the Green New Deal?

Image
Green New Deal proposals and policy discussions often sound like a smorgasbord of different issues.  You hear about job creation, counteracting inequities that have impacted underrepresented communities, research and development, agriculture, transportation, and the list goes on.   Rightly so; the environmental problems of today rest on a complicated, interlocking puzzle of social, technological, and economic problems.   But the underlying goal of any Green New Deal is the dramatic expansion of the renewable energy sector.  That raises a prickly question: how do we do that and protect the environment at the same time? A recent UC Davis/Center for Biological Diversity study led by Dr. Rebecca Hernandez highlighted perhaps the greatest challenge we will face in implementing a Green New Deal:
"Achieving a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources on planet Earth to support human activities, in a manner benign to Earth’s life support systems, is arguably the gran…

Renewable Energy Legislation Would Slash Environmental Protection

Image
The Wilderness Society is endorsing a bill that would encourage more corporate development of public lands, and allow Washington to undermine the National Environmental Police Act (NEPA).  The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act ( S. 1407, H.R. 2663) would require the Department of Interior to identify priority and "variance" development areas for wind and geothermal energy, adding to the controversial Solar Energy Zones and variance lands established in 2012.  The bill would not require "exclusion areas," would add staffing to speed up renewable energy permitting, and would allow Washington to short-circuit environmental review.

More of the Same...
Landscape-level planning could ostensibly protect desert wildlands, but programmatic energy development plans have shown significant deference to industry and offer environmental shortcuts for industry to bulldoze significant swaths of intact habitat.  If you want to imagine what will happen if the Public Land R…

Arizona and the Rooftop Revolution

Image
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) -- the body responsible for rate adjustments for utility companies in Arizona -- was presented a report by its staff last month that recommended a paradigm shift in how it meets its renewable energy goal of 15% by 2025.  The ACC staff report recommends that Arizona meet its renewable energy needs with stepped-up investment in rooftop solar, which the ACC staff judges to be the lowest cost renewable energy option because distributed generation does not require expensive new transmission lines and centralized power plants.  The recognition of rooftop solar's value is a positive sign for our southwestern deserts, which are threatened by both climate change and industrial sprawl from large-scale solar and wind facilities.

Arizonans have an appetite for local clean energy, and the ACC staff recommendation would ensure that ratepayers' money goes back to the community in the form of incentives for customers to install solar panels.  Arizona ha…

Salazar Implements Solar Development Policy

As expected, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar signed the record of decision, officially implementing the Obama administration's Solar Energy Development Program.  For the most part, the policy codifies the status quo -- handing energy corporations wide access to public wildlands.  The initial intent of the policy proposal was to limit the destructive solar energy projects to specific zones, but after intense lobbying by the energy industry, the Obama administration included the option for companies to propose projects on nearly 30,000 square miles of "variance" lands outside of approximately 445 square miles of the solar energy zones.  This wide access to wildlands is the cause of so much concern among conservationists, since energy companies have sought to build on critical desert habitat, instead of already-disturbed lands.

Groups such as the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife suggested development should be limited to the zones, which already provided more land th…

Clean Coalition and Sierra Club of California Demand More Robust Feed-in-Tariff

The Clean Coalition and Sierra Club of California filed a petition demanding that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reconsider and strengthen its planned implementation of a feed-in-tariff (FiT). Solar Done Right applauds this petition and encourages the CPUC to implement a more robust FiT. Local clean energy advocates believe that the CPUC’s late May decision on how to implement California SB 32—a law passed in 2009 requiring CPUC and utilities to expand FiT programs in the state—failed to address the law’s requirements and does not fairly compensate ratepayers for the value of distributed generation.

Specifically, the petition notes that the FiT formula in the CPUC decision does not recognize one of the greatest benefits of rooftop solar installations to other utility ratepayers—the avoidance of new transmission and distribution costs, which are required when the utility companies invest in expensive and remote power plants far from the point of use.

The petition ca…

Policy for Rooftop Solar, Not Desert Destruction

An excellent op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee explains what California should do to encourage rooftop solar and other forms of local clean energy.  At the heart of the debate is the San Diego Gas & Electric company's proposal to charge rooftop solar owners a superfluous "transmission" charge.  You can think of this as equivalent to Bank of America's ridiculous plan to charge its customers $5 a month to use their debit cards. 

Solar technology makes utility companies seem as outdated as record companies and paperback book publishers in an age of MP3s and Amazon Kindles.  Even Bloomberg agrees. Solar gives everyone the opportunity to generate their own energy.  No need to bulldoze deserts for solar facilities.  No need to install wind turbines on beautiful mountains.  No need to blast open mountains in West Virginia for coal.  It's time that the California Public Utilities Commission appreciate the true value of rooftop solar.

According to the Sacramento Be…

Vanishing Flowers

Image
Spring blooms in the Antelope Valley, in the western Mojave Desert.  The Antelope Valley is also famous for the iconic California poppy (official State flower).  Unfortunately, the proposed Blue Sky wind energy project and "Wildflower Green Energy Farm" would industrialize several square-miles of these fields around the famed California Poppy Reserve, adding wind turbines and solar panels.

You can visit Friends of Antelope Valley Open Space for more information.


Caithness Solar Threatens Heart of the Mojave Desert

Image
A project proposed by New York-based Caithness Energy could degrade or destroy up to 6.8 square miles of public land identified by the Nature Conservancy study as "biologically core" to the health of the Mojave Desert.  The Soda Mountain Solar Project would be built on pristine desert habitat--mostly creosote scrub--and would likely disrupt an essential habitat connectivity corridor.
Desert experts fear that the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) initial review of the site does not adequately describe the importance of the area and biological resources that likely exist there.  According to the BLM Plan of Development for the project obtained by Basin and Range Watch,  the special status plant survey carried out for the plan of development was only cursory in nature and conducted in December when the extent of botanical resources are less apparent.  The plan of development also reports finding no desert tortoises on the project site, despite the relatively intact tortois…

We Can Print Solar Cells on Paper (But We Still Bulldoze Pristine Desert?)

Image
Scientists at MIT have developed a way to print solar cells on paper or fabric.  Other projects have produced solar cells embedded in roof shingles and windows.  Why are we proposing to bulldoze hundreds of square miles of pristine desert and public land for archaic fields of steel and glass when we can put solar cells just about anywhere else? In our cities, over parking lots...on paper and fabric.


Top 10 Myths Renewable Energy Companies Want You to Believe

Image
Big Solar and Wind companies still pretend they can do no harm to the environment, projecting a misleading image that glosses over the damage their projects cause.  We have to face the facts if we're going to chose the right renewable energy path--which is distributed generation (such as rooftop solar), or projects on already disturbed land (such as those identified by the EPA's RE-Powering America's Land program). 

Before I break into the list, I will say that coal and oil companies are also guilty of misinformation, and there is no doubt that their products damage the environment and our health.  But if we are going to prevent renewable energy from taking a path that also destroys our open spaces and wildlands, we need to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Here are the Top 10 myths you will hear from Big Solar and Wind energy company executives:

10.) Bulldozing the land to build massive solar or wind farms may have local impacts, but it will save the rest of the world…

Ridgecrest Site Still Targeted by Solar Millennium

Image
According to information obtained by Basin and Range Watch, the German energy firm Solar Millennium LLC and its US front company, "Solar Trust of America," are proposing a reconfigured facility for the Ridgecrest Solar power project.  The new site would use all photovoltaic panels, instead of thermal solar technology.  Check out the Basin and Range Watch update here.

The facility was opposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff last year because the site chosen by Solar Millennium would cut off a Mohave ground squirrel corridor and destroy a robust desert tortoise population.   The company's board is currently being investigated for misappropriation of funds and embezzlement in Germany, but the US government is moving forward and issuing the company over 2.1 billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and 18 million dollars in grants for the Blythe solar power project.

Is Washington Creating a Big Solar Bubble?

Image
We all know what happened when Wall Street and Washington both looked the other way in the name of corporate profit as banks and insurers inflated housing prices, and encouraged unstable investments.  But will Americans be stuck with the cost of another over-hyped investment?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has smoothed the way to permit hundreds of square miles of solar energy facilities on public land in America's southwestern deserts.   In California alone there were 20 solar applications in line for public land, totaling over 200 square miles.  The Obama administration asked the BLM to work with the Department of Energy (DOE) to decide which projects can receive taxpayer-backed financing and grants.  Massive solar projects have already been approved for over 4 billion dollars in government loans, and millions of dollars in cash grants.
A subsidiary of energy firm "NRG" was awarded over 18 million dollars in grants (free cash), and 2.1 billion dollars of taxpayer-b…

Measuring the Renewable Energy Land Grab

Image
One thousand square miles.  That's how much public land energy companies want to bulldoze over the next few years in California for massive solar and wind facilities, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) list of pending and approved wind testing and solar applications.   That is more than two times the size of Los Angeles, over four times the size of San Francisco, and more than 14 times the size of Washington D.C.  But what would 1,000 square miles of solar and wind projects get us? Will it stop climate change?  Not nearly.  The proposed projects would generate 13.7 gigawatts of energy.   That is less than a quarter of California's total energy generation capacity.  Building fields of glass and metal the size of the cities they are meant to power does not make sense. 

There is a lot of political momentum pushing these massive projects at the expense of investing in distributed generation (such as rooftop solar) which would spare our wildlands for future genera…

Hetch Hetchy and the Ivanpah Valley: Preserving Local Values While Meeting Global Needs

Image
In 1913, John Muir found himself confronting formidable forces that sought to entomb a pristine valley he had long fought to protect.  Congress, the White House, and San Francisco's water utility were eager to fill the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite with water that would supply a growing metropolis far away on California's coast.  Muir was an amicable, reasonable and open-minded naturalist, as portrayed in A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster.  He did not fight projects for the sake of obstruction, but for sensible policy. There were other sources of water closer to San Fransisco, he argued, and it was needlessly accepted that the city's growth and thirst should not be tamed or made more efficient.
Muir would not relent in his battle to save Hetch Hetchy, even when his own friends betrayed him.  Andrew Carnegie cast Muir's concerns aside and said: "John Muir is a fine Scotchman... but for all that it is too foolish to say that t…