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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…

Industry Influence Limits Discussion Space

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Protecting intact ecosystems from unnecessary destruction should be considered a core objective for  people concerned with the fate of the planet and our ability to live sustainably, yet the climate crisis has prompted various facets of the energy industry - from fossil fuel interests, to utility companies, wind turbine manufacturers, wind project developers, solar panel makers, and solar panel installers - to manipulate how we discuss the solution to the climate crisis.  Just as any industry tends to lobby and influence the parameters of debates that might affect their profits (e.g., the tobacco industry and public health, and the gun industry and gun ownership regulation) the energy industry will similarly seek to influence how we define and pursue sustainability.  So it is imperative that environmentalists participate in this discussion with a critical eye, questioning not just the information they are given, but also questioning the boundaries placed on the discussion and how thos…

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…

Wildlife Viewing at the Preserve this Weekend

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If you are free on Saturday, June 7, head out to the Mojave National Preserve for an opportunity to learn from wildlife experts and a chance to see bighorn sheep and other desert denizens.  


I had the fortune of visiting the Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx last month, and the even greater fortune of viewing desert bighorn sheep along the rocky slopes that meet the Soda Dry Lake.  Although the landscape is mostly dry, natural springs in the area provide a critical water source for the sheep and habitat for the endangered Mohave tui chub.  I would highly recommend heading out to this event early, and consider camping in the Preserve that night if you want to prolong your escape into the desert!


Ivanpah's Toll on Wildlife Mounts

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According to reports sent monthly to the California Energy Commission, the NRG and BrightSource Ivanpah Solar project in California continues to incinerate and batter birds and bats, even though the plant is often not running at full capacity.   As many as 165 birds and four bats have been found dead on the project site from February to the end of April, and 6 birds have been found injured.  These numbers are probably only a fraction of the total mortality since surveys cannot cover the whole project site, and it is possible some birds and bats die after flying beyond the project boundary or their carcasses are picked up by scavengers.  As KCET ReWire points out, some of the bird deaths in April were water birds, suggesting they may have flown to the shimmering mirrors of the solar project thinking it was a body of water.




Many of the birds were killed after being burned by the super-heated air above the project site, while others likely collided with one of the thousands of giant mirr…

Silurian Valley Comments Due Soon

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Can you spare a few minutes for the Silurian Valley?  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) extended the deadline for comments on Iberdrola's proposal to build a solar project in the Silurian Valley north of Baker, California.  BLM will decide whether or not to allow the project to move forward because it is outside of the established Solar Energy Zones.    BLM's initial solicitation for public comments included an incorrect e-mail address, so the comment period has been extended to May 28.  You can visit this blog's "Take Action" page for more information and the corrected e-mail address to send your comments!


Obama Establishes Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

President Obama on Wednesday designated nearly half a million acres in southern New Mexico as the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, protecting large swaths of soaptree yucca, four-winged saltbush, alligator juniper, and gray oak in the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan desert.  The designation is the second in as many years for New Mexico; the President established the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in March 2013.   Both monuments are administered by the Bureau of Land Management.


Other desert conservation and wilderness proposals are languishing in Congress, including bills to protect desert habitat and recreation areas in California, Nevada and Arizona.  Hopefully the President will once again act to protect our beautiful desert landscapes.