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Showing posts with the label solar energy

Solar Energy On the Wrong Path

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Thousand of rooftops in our cities bake under the California sun, and hundreds of thousands of acres of already-disturbed land identified by EPA's RE-powering America's Land program sit idle -- perfect places for solar panels.  BrightSource Energy LLC, which portrays itself as an innovative solar energy company, ignored these options and decided to begin bulldozing 5.6 square miles of pristine desert habitat on public land (using 1.4 billion dollars of taxpayer-backed financing).

A video recently released on You Tube (below) of crews clearing old growth desert for BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert reveals a different kind of company.  This is a business that is not worthy of the "green" reputation bestowed upon it by those who only believe in protecting nature when she is not standing in the way of profit.



Desert shrubs and Yuccas that took hundreds of years to grow--symbolic of nature's persevearance and …

Citizen Coalition Criticizes Obama Energy Proposal

A coalition of energy experts, biologists and concerned citizens known as Solar Done Rightissued a report Monday questioning why Washington wants to sacrifice hundreds of square miles of public land and billions of taxpayer dollars to solar energy companies instead of encouraging rooftop solar.   The report is available on Solar Done Right's website

Solar Done Right's report is a response to the policy proposals contained in the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft PEIS).  The Draft PEIS was issued jointly by the Departments of Interior and Energy last year, and seeks to establish a policy of offering over 22 million acres of mostly pristine desert habitat for development to solar energy companiesThe Draft PEIS fails to consider alternatives to sacrificing public land,  such as implementing policies that encourage distributed generation (aka rooftop solar).   This blog previously commented on the inadequacies of the Draft PEIS

Solar Done Right…

On Green Jobs

The massive solar power projects that threaten to destroy public land throughout America's southwestern deserts are coated in economic promise.  The Obama administration included loan guarantees and grants as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in order boost renewable energy generation, and Congress extended the Treasury Grant Program that funnels taxpayers' money to renewable energy companies.   In order to justify this money, the projects are promoted by politicians as "green" job creation engines, but the impact of these jobs is inflated and misleading. 

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger touted the need for green jobs in his recent opinion piece in the Atlantic Monthly, and large-scale solar projects on public land feature prominently in the President's energy blueprint.   The energy companies promise to turn around the recession if they are given unfettered access to public land and money.  Tessera Solar LLC CEO Robert Lukefahr complained …

Speak Up For An Energy Policy That Preserves Pristine Desert

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The Federal government is currently reviewing a broad policy shift that could encourage solar energy development on thousands of square miles of pristine public land in America's deserts, according to its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  Unfortunately, the new policy fails to consider a much better alternative, which is to encourage solar energy development on rooftops and on already-disturbed lands.  After a summary of the policy's potential impacts, you can read below to learn how to submit public comments on the policy as a concerned citizen, and urge a smarter approach.

Summary of the Policy:
The Departments of Interior and Energy are jointly reviewing three alternative policies for permitting solar energy on public land.   Each alternative makes a different amount of public land available to energy companies, but the government estimates that companies will use 214,000 acres (334 square miles) within 20 years.

The "No Action Al…

Environmental Organizations Demand Wiser Desert Solar Policy

The editorial below was jointly authored by the Sierra Club, NRDC, and Wilderness Society in response to wayward government policy that could needlessly sacrifice hundreds of square miles of pristine desert to solar energy development.  These groups are finally showing much needed leadership on a vexing issue -- that not all renewable energy is "green." I explore the issue in more depth in "Green vs. Greed." 

The bottom line is that the Department of Interior is willing to permit solar energy development on desert habitat, even though millions of acres of already-disturbed lands are being ignored by our government and energy companies.  Additionally, rooftop solar programs have not yet tapped the full potential of distributed generation in our cities.  Our energy policy needs to break free from the old paradigm of massive transmission lines and facilities and take advantage of the true benefit of solar -- that it can be generated wherever the sun shines.  There is …

There is an alternative to bulldozing pristine desert...

Someone responded to my last blog post with concern that I did not identify alternatives to utility-scale (large) solar power facilities in the middle of the desert.  Although I did try to explain the optimal solution (distributed generation, using rooftops, installing panels over parking lots, or using other spaces in our cities), there is a paper that discusses this solution in-depth (and with much more expertise!).  The paper, "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California," was written by energy expert Al Weinrub, in collaboration with the Sierra Club and the Local Clean Energy Alliance. 

Community Power by Al Weinrub

Am I Advocating Sensible Policy or NIMBYism?

I received a thoughtful response to my previous blog post from Ken.  I'm copying the comment and my response below, because I think Ken's questions helped me think more critically about my position on utility-scale solar proposed for California's deserts.  I have noted before on this blog that I do not expect there to be absolutely no development in the Mojave Desert.  This is not a "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) scenario.  The point is to encourage sensible land management in policy that balances the various demands we have for natural resources.  Unfortunately, it is not sensible policy to expect that California's deserts can meet all of our energy needs...

From Ken:
What are your solutions? It is easy to point out environmental shortcomings of any specific method of producing the energy civilization consumes. It is much harder to come up with viable solutions.

I'm not advocating for or against this project, I'm just advocating for everyone to work…

Is Utility-Scale Solar Power Actually "Green" Energy?

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are set to approve several utility-scale solar power projects this year, there is one question energy companies do not want to answer.  Can we meet our energy needs with solar energy without destroying as much of the environment as mountain-top coal mining or deep sea oil drilling?  

California wants to meet 33% of the State's energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020.  According to CEC estimates, energy companies will need to seize nearly 128,000 acres of land in order to produce enough solar energy to meet the 33% requirement.  That is equivalent to approximately 200 square miles.   The majority of the projects that the BLM and CEC are considering are proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California.  Many of these proposed sites are on public land.

If we were to meet 100% of California's energy needs through utility-scale solar, it would r…

San Bernardino County Opposed to Conservation; Supports Corporations Pilfering Public Land

According to the minutes from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisor's meeting from 13 July, the County approved a position requesting that Federal Agencies avoid purchasing private land for conservation purposes, and also requested that additional land be set aside for Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use.  At the end of the day, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors showed just how short-sighted their policy decisions are, and supported a subsidy for corporations that are swallowing up open space and desert wilderness for their own profit.

Summary:  We (the County Supervisors) support industrial scale development of pristine, public desert wilderness, but we do not want you to conserve additional land in order to off-set the damage.  We should, however, allow more OHV use, which is well known to destroy wilderness.  Net effect: Less wilderness, less wildlife, less camping, less hiking, less photography,  less beautiful vistas, less nature, less open space, less natural …

Ridgecrest Solar Power Project Consideration Suspended for Two Years

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According to a letter submitted by Solar Millennium, the company has asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to temporarily suspend the application review of its proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power project.  As noted previously on this blog, the Ridgecrest Solar power project could fragment critical Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat and harm a healthy desert tortoise population.  

Solar Millennium intends to use the suspension period to conduct an intensive study of the Mohave Ground Squirrel--aided by a known expert on the species--to shed light on the population and behavior in the vicinity of Ridgecrest beginning in Spring 2011 and run for two years.  In its letter, Solar Millennium stated its plans to restart the application for the Ridgecrest site if the study finds that construction will not significantly impact the Mohave Ground Squirrel.   The company could use the study to find a configuration for the site (or perhaps an alternative location) that would be less likely to draw o…

Newberry Springs Solar Proposal Draws Opposition

A proposal to construct a 3 Mega-Watt solar power station in Newberry Springs--which was conditionally approved by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission earlier this year--is drawing opposition from neighbors who contend that the Rural Living zoning of the area should preclude industrial scale solar projects.  The site, which would encompass 80 acres and would be built by Solutions for Utilities, is located among disturbed and fallow agricultural land west of the proposed Calico Solar Power project site.  The opposition to the Solutions for Utilities project brings attention to a developing angle in the "solar rush" taking place in the Mojave--pressure placed on rural communities to accept the industrial scale development that should not occur in pristine wilderness, but that would disrupt quality of life in more populated areas.

The appeal by the opponents of the site will be heard by the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors at tonight's (13 July) meeting.  The a…

Renewable Energy Action Team Fund Established

An inter-agency forum known as the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) seeking to streamline the renewable energy permitting process in California has succeeded in establishing a fund to centralize conservation funds that offset the impact of energy development.  The REAT is composed of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the California Energy Commission (CEC), as I noted in a previous post on the topic.  Among the policy tools REAT hopes to implement is the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which would provide a framework for implementing regionally coordinated land acquisition and mitigation to off-set the negative affects of the renewable energy rush on desert biological resources.  The DRECP is not expect to be completed until 2012, however.

One of the REAT's policy goals was to establish a central fund to which renewable energy developers would pay their required mitigation fees--…

Initial Ridgecrest Solar Workshop Read-Out

A reader of this blog posted a brief summary of the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project public workshop held 23/24 April to address questions about the proposed site on issues of water, soil, transportation etc (pretty much everything except biological resources, which will be covered on 3 and 4 May.  See the original post here.)

What is striking is that the water usage of the Ridgecrest site, which is a dry-cooled plant (so presumably it is much more water efficient than other proposed solar sites) would still have enormous impacts on ground water.  Ridgecrest's consumption of approximately 150 acre feet a year is dwarfed by the consumption of the proposed Abengoa Solar site near Barstow and Helendale, which would consume nearly 1,077 acre-feet per year. 

If you could not make it to the 23/24 April Public Workshop, you can attend the 3rd or 4th May workshop focused on biological resources at Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM. 

Comment from Laura about the recent public workshops:
-- -- -- …

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 …

LA Planning Solar Development Near Palmdale

The Board of Commissioners for the Los Angeles World Airports is considering leasing land it owns near Palmdale and Lancaster to solar energy developers.  It's not entirely clear where the land is located, but according to recent statements, it is likely near the Palmdale regional airport and US Air Force Plant 42.  Most of the land in that area would probably be considered disturbed, so perhaps prime solar siting territory.  The only problem would be if the land is actually to the east of the city where there are actually a few wildlife sanctuaries.  Much of the Western Mojave (in the vicinity of Victorville/Palmdale/Ridgecrest) is so close to population centers that the wildlife in this part of the Mojave could be considered to be under more pressure than the Eastern portion of the desert.

Public Workshops for Ridgecrest Solar Power Project

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), there will be four public workshops held to discuss the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power Project.  The workshops will give members of the public an opportunity to discuss or learn more about the recently published staff assessment and environmental impact statement for the project.   The first pair of workshops in April will address water, soil, visual, air, land use, and traffic issues.   The second pair of workshops in May will address biological resources.   You can read more about the staff assessment and EIS on a previous post on this blog.

The workshops will be held on 22 April AND 23 April, and on 3 May and 4 May (biological issues) at the Ridgecrest City Hall at 8AM on each day.  You can also call into the workshop if you cannot attend in person.  The following information is from the CEC e-mail notice:

*Who*: The staff of the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will jointly hold a public works…

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…

Ridgecrest Solar Site: Ivanpah of the West Mojave?

Preliminary surveys of the proposed site for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project in the western Mojave Desert indicate it is currently home to several sensitive species, even though it is not far from the outskirts of Ridgecrest.   The proposed facility would disturb roughly 2,000 acres, and would be situated on a site already crossed by some dirt roads, and adjacent to Highway 395.  During surveys in 2009,  however, biologists spotted approximately 50 desert tortoise, including 40 in the proposed disturbance area, and four active Kit fox burrows were also found.  An active burrow for an American Badger was discovered within the project buffer zone, and four primary burrows for the Western burrowing owl were found within the proposed disturbance area.

Although the endangered Mojave ground squirrel was not spotted during the surveys, biologists judged that there is a high likelihood that the squirrels occur on the site because of high quality habitat in the area, and the existence of Mo…

The Project Formerly Known as Solar One...

Updates on the certification process for two large-scale solar projects -- Solar One and Beacon Solar

The  850 megawatt and approximately 8,000 acre solar project previously titled "Solar One" proposed for the Pisgah, California area (just east of the Interstate 40 and Interstate 15 Junction) has adopted a new name -- Calico Solar Project as proposed by the newly re-named Calico Solar LLC (formerly SES LLC).   You can read my December posting on the preliminary environmental impact statement for the Calico site, but the short and dirty is that the site is host to the endangered Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard and Desert Tortoise. 

As of early January Calico Solar LLC  submitted additional information required by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for its application so we can expect to see more forward movement on the certification process.  They still have to submit a Desert Tortoise relocation and mitigation plan.  However, review of Calico LLC's documents from last year…

Panorama Photos of Solar Energy Study Areas Available

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As many of you are probably already aware, the Federal Government is proposing Solar Energy study areas, whereby the government has designated areas throughout the southwestern United States to evaluate for the suitability of future solar energy development.  The upside to this program is that it would ideally encourage energy companies to consolidate development in specific areas rather than scattered all throughout the Mojave Desert, although the jury is still out regarding the environmental impact on the specific sites chosen by the Federal Government.

You can visit the website for the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) here, and you can also view panoramic photos of the sites being evaluated here.  If you check out the photographs for Pisgah, California, you'll see plenty of old lava flows, which will most likely host the endangered Mojave Desert Fringe-toed lizard.  That said, the site is located near agricultural fields and not far fro…