Beacon Solar Approved to Operate in Mojave Desert

In the California Energy Commission's (CEC) first decision among several proposed solar projects under consideration, Beacon Solar was given approval to operate on a portion of former agricultural land near California City, located in the West Mojave Desert.  The Beacon Solar proposal came under scrutiny because it will not use dry-cooling technology, which means it will use 1,400 acre-feet of water per year to cool down the fluid heated by the solar array to produce energy.  That amounts to approximately 456 million gallons of water a year in a State that is historically pushing the limits of its water supply and demand curve, and its not clear that recycled water is a condition of Beacon Solar's certification.

One of the conditions of certification upheld in the presiding member's proposed decision (subject to a 30-day comment period now) includes a number of rules governing Beacon Solar's use of water, to include mandating netting over its evaporation ponds (which can attract and poison birds) and monitoring the groundwater supply.  The CEC permits Beacon Solar to use the groundwater as long as it monitors groundwater supply, and the proposed decision suggests Beacon Solar must phase out groundwater use and switch to recycled wastewater. 

However, I do not see specific language in the water conditions (Soil & Water 1) that requires Beacon Solar to phase out ground water and begin using recycled wastewater capacity.  Although "Soil & Water 18"--another condition in the proposed decision--requires Beacon Solar to provide a copy of an executed recycled water purchase agreement,  this still does not seem to be a pre-condition to construction and operation, only requiring that if a water purchase agreement is pursued, it should be approved by the CEC.  I'll dig further into this.

If the Beacon Solar site does switch to recycled wastewater over the next five years, it could reduce its exploitation of groundwater to 153 acre feet per year instead of 1400.  

Beacon Solar should be applauded for selecting a location for its solar site that does not contain pristine Mojave Desert habitat since the site falls on fallow agricultural land, but its decision to use a thirsty cooling technology is an issue to monitor over the course of the site's operation. 

For wildlife issues, the CEC proposed decision would require Beacon Solar to purchase 115 acres of land to mitigate for the potential loss of wildlife (Desert tortoise and Mohave ground squirrel) during the course of construction.  Because Beacon Solar chose fallow agricultural land for its site, it is one of the lowest mitigation requirements seen among the current energy projects under review by the CEC. 


  1. They say the right things on their parent company's website, but talk is cheap. They are
    walking the walk siting on that used up farmland, and
    at least the CEC didn't stick them like they did to Abengoa and demand large prime farm acreage to mitigate for the loss of the "farmland."

    The wet technology is a huge water hog, hopefully they can phase in recycled water as you suggest, 1400 acre feet, 1000 acre feet there, pretty soon you're talking a huge amount of "fossil" water, which probably won't be replaced any time soon.

    Great post,but I can't help but wonder how many other decisions will be coming down the pike soon.

  2. Agreed -- I'm not sure I understand the "farm land" mitigation, especially since thirsty crops in the desert do not seem to make as much sense in light of water shortages.

  3. The CEC really knows better. To deplete a fossil aquifer to stroke the solar industry is not renewable when it renders a region waterless and useless for the future.

    How did it get to the point when scientists start chasing their tails? Destroying an aquifer to combat climate change will create a local situation that will probably turn out to hurt the area more than climate change. In reality, climate change combined with poor planning and groundwater depletion will speed up the destruction.

    I've said it before, if the CEC can not do the basic job of protecting water resources, abolish them.


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