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Close the Coolwater Natural Gas Plant

San Bernardino County's ozone levels are ridiculous.  According to the Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino can reach ozone levels of 107 parts per billion (ppb), which is bad for our health and the environment.  The current standard for ozone levels is 75 ppb, set by the Bush administration, but even this is seen as too high.  The Obama administration is proposing to adjust the standard down to 65 - 70 ppb.  Whether we stick with the unhealthy standard of 75 ppb, or go lower, San Bernardino Count has clearly been negligent in addressing a serious health problem, and should be conisdering bold steps to clean up its act.  One obvious step would be to shut down the Coolwater natural gas plant just east of Barstow in the heart of San Bernardino County. 

This old natural gas facility is reaching the end of its life, and contributes to congestion on power lines that inhibits the addition of renewable energy.  Southern California Edison (SCE) - the local utility company that also buys powe…

Silurian Valley Spared by BLM

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If you have ever been to the Silurian Valley, you know it is one of those grand places that inspires and beckons you to pull over, get out of your car, and hike.  After driving on Interstate 15 from Barstow, the Silurian Valley is a strong dose of tranquility, providing relief from the traffic, billboards and franchise restaurants of our Anthropocentric world and what Aldo Leopold called the "epidemic of geometry."  As you drive up the two-lane Death Valley Road,  you leave behind the sight of the small highway outpost of Baker and you are swallowed by the immensity of the Silurian Valley. It is just you and the narrow road dividing thousands of acres of wilderness on either side.  This week, Jim Kenna, the State Director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California, spared this place for future generations to experience when he rejected plans by Spain-based Iberdrola to build the Aurora Solar project.

Kenna's decision represents a significant milestone u…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

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The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Interior released a report this month confirming that a senior Obama administration official with cozy ties to the renewable energy industry pressured subordinates to ignore environmental concerns in favor of providing rubber-stamp approval to power plants.  The IG report focuses on the actions of Steve Black - who retired from Interior in 2013 and served as senior counselor to former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar  - because he dated a lobbyist for renewable energy company NextEra and also put his name forward to serve as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), all while continuing to manage the approval of renewable energy projects on public lands.  At the very least, Mr. Black's actions constitute the appearance of impropriety that undermines our ability to trust Interior leadership to manage public lands based on sound science rather than special interests.

As senior counselor to the Secretary of Interior, Black ha…

Celebrating the Desert Protection Act

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Senator Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act (CDPA) was signed into law 20 years ago on October 31, 1994, establishing new protections for vast stretches of the desert.  The CDPA established 69 new Wilderness areas,  created the Mojave National Preserve, converted Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments into National Parks, and added acreage to both parks.

Watching the sun set in a remote corner of the Mojave forges a connection between me and generations past, and it would be nice to know that future generations will share the same natural heritage.  Witnessing mountain shadows gently stretch across miles of open desert, hearing coyotes howl at twilight as bats flutter by, and being immersed in an infinite blanket of stars overhead are some of the treasured experiences you can have in the desert. 

These experiences are increasingly threatened, however, as cities sprawl outward, new major highways threaten to slice across the landscape, and transmission li…

DRECP Spotlight: Cuddeback

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When I was a kid growing up in Victorville watching jets taking off from now-closed George Air Force Base, I didn't know that some of them were probably bombing a 12 square mile patch of desert in California known as the Cuddeback Air Force Bomb and Gunnery Range.  The U.S. Air Force gave up the Cuddeback range in August 2012, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is still figuring out whether it is "suitable for public use."  The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) does not designate the Cuddeback range as either a development focus area or a conservation area, even thought it is immediately adjacent to two wilderness areas, and probably serves as important habitat for the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel.

The Google map above shows the approximate boundaries of the former Cuddeback Air Force Range.  The DRECP does not recognize the range as BLM land, even though Department of Interior testimony acknowledged that the U.S. Air Force relinquished …

DRECP Spotlight: Bats

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According to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a full build-out of the anticipated wind energy target in the California desert region would kill from 4,000 to 283,000 bats each year (page IV.7-273).   This estimate assumes 2,023 turbines would be installed in development focus areas in the western Mojave, Lucerne Valley, Chocolate Mountains and Imperial Valley.

The wide range in the bat death estimate - a spread of over 270,000 - shows just how little we know about how renewable energy in the desert will impact bats.  The wind industry does not always cooperate with independent studies on wildlife impacts, and the industry funds the American Wind Wildlife Institute to shape the public discussion on this topic in a way that is favorable to industry.
I have not seen any information in the DRECP that states whether bat populations in the California desert could even survive mortality in the middle range of this estimate.  If the industry kills 100,000 bats each year …

Renewable Energy World Slips on DRECP Coverage

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Online industry magazine Renewable Energy World declared in a recent article that the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) "kneecaps" the renewable energy industry, inaccurately arguing that 3,162 square miles of development focus areas is not enough for the industry.  This is my attempt to deconstruct the article's overall lack of understanding of the DRECP and the state of renewable energy in the California desert:

Claim 1:The energy industry will be handicapped by the DRECP because 80 percent of the development focus areas are on private lands, and it is too difficult for the industry to acquire and develop private lands:  

Response:  This is not consistent with facts on the ground.  There are nearly 4,000 megawatts of wind and solar projects approved, under construction or operational on non-federal lands in the DRECP area, indicating that industry has easily acquired and developed private lands.  These include projects with a capacity of hundreds of megaw…