Showing posts from August, 2011

Conservationists Offer Alternative to First Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday hosted a public meeting to discuss one of two solar projects that would be built in the Ivanpah Valley by First Solar Inc, drawing concerned citizens who expressed deep frustrations with a misguided renewable energy policy.   Desert experts and conservation advocates in attendance presented an alternative proposal to designate much of the valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in order to protect a crucial genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and habitat for rare plants and other wildlife.   The full ACEC petition can be viewed at Basin and Range Watch's website .   Many citizens at the meeting have long called for distributed solar generation (such as rooftop solar), or placing solar facilities on lands that are already disturbed instead of on ecologically intact areas such as the Ivanpah Valley. Ivanpah Valley, with the Clark Mountains in the background. The two projects proposed by First S

National Clean Energy Summit Dismissive of Dangers

Political officials and energy industry executives gathered in Las Vegas today to discuss renewable energy policy at the National Clean Energy Summit (NCES).  Many of the headline speakers at NCES were focused on the country's most vexing issue, jobs, with just a very thin veneer of "green" to make it seem like they were talking about something new.     The overall tone of NCES was disappointingly dismissive of the proven dangers of Big Solar and Wind energy, with few voices reminding the attendees that all Big Energy--even solar and wind--exact a toll on the environment.  The reluctance of national leaders to acknowledge the ecological impact that their policy will have on the land is not much different than political candidates denying the science behind climate change. The NCES website was adorned with an image of a large transmission line pylon, and the image of a towering white turbine occasionally flashed on the screen for streaming video coverage of the confe


Fiddleneck blooms and Joshua Tree limbs reach for the sky at Saddleback Butte State Park in the western Mojave Desert.

Environmental Groups Warn Interior on Calico Solar Project

Three environmental groups--the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Natural Resources Defense Council--threatened to take legal action in Federal court against the Department of Interior's approval of the Calico solar power project, urging instead that it be built on already-disturbed lands.   The challenge represents the most significant step taken by these environmental groups to establish principles in what has otherwise been a rush by the Obama administration to industrialize public lands in the name of "green" energy.  The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium.  The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impac

Wise Words

Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing recently published a great piece on KCET looking at what we will lose when the majestic Carrizo Plain is industrialized for the sake of large-scale renewable energy projects.  While writing the piece he came across a passionate letter written by long-time public servant and friend of the environment Peter Douglas, who recently retired from the California Coastal Commission.  Mr. Douglas wrote the letter urging policymakers to reconsider plans to build massive solar power projects in Carrizo Plain, which will threaten endangered species in an area called "California's Serengeti".  You can read the full letter on the Carrizo Commons website , but I've included some particularly inspiring excerpts below. I sense in pockets of our political, economic and civic world of leaders, a need to be seen as progressive facilitators and not as obstructionists in the way of new centralized industrial development of renewable energy.  This is a

Take 2: Death by a Thousand Cuts

I posted in July about hundreds of square-miles of wind and solar projects that threaten to transform Southern California's deserts and mountains into a giant industrial zone.  Included in that was a BLM map showing those project locations, but I felt that map was missing the landscapes and lifestyles that will actually be impacted by the proposed projects.  I put together my own version of that BLM map, which depicts the same projects and impacts, but with Google Earth you can see the mountains and valleys that will be interrupted by towering wind turbines and the tarps of steel and glass we call renewable energy.  My map does not pretend to follow exact boundaries, but each project is roughly the size depicted on the BLM map.  Wildlife, travelers, naturalists, tourists, hikers, campers, and rock hounds wont notice a 20 meter difference in the boundary when a project is several miles across.  The result is a sick sort of art, showing the planned destruction of " God's

Indigenous America Asks Questions About "Green" Policies

Film maker Robert Lundahl captures Native American concerns regarding the destruction of sacred sites during the initial construction of Solar Millennium's Blythe solar power project. Ironically, the bulldozers already cleared an ancient geoglyph known as "the sun."  The solar project is being delayed since Solar Millennium's switch to photovoltaic panels will require approval, and the company is also attempting to secure financing.  If the company clears these hurdles, construction could resume next year and destroy up to 11 square-miles of historical sites and desert habitat. Indigenous America Asks Questions About U.S. "Green" Policies from Robert Lundahl on Vimeo .

Escape to Reality

A poem about the desert by Ruth Nolan, a desert resident and artist who has a blog with even more poetry over at Phantom Seedlings .  I came across this poem while reading James Goebell's A Geology of Borders blog.

Solar Where We Live

A recent article in Sierra Magazine praised the benefits of rooftop solar leasing programs, which allow homeowners to install solar panels with little or no up front costs.  These programs and other policies can revolutionize the way we obtain our energy, and erode the old paradigm of destroying wildlands to power our refrigerators and microwaves.  As renewable energy expert John Farrell told Sierra Magazine, "[o]ur policy is favoring Big Solar—or Big Anything, really—at the expense of the small stuff." We need to pay more attention to the solution right in front of us.  Parking lots, rooftops, reservoirs, and so on.  Solar panels can make use of these spaces as " distributed generation ". In addition to the solar leasing programs identified in the article, we need policies like feed-in-tariffs and Property Assessed Clean Energy ( PACE ).  PACE programs enable homeowners to pay for rooftop solar installations through installments on their local property tax ove

Solar Millennium Uncertain About Destructive Blythe Project

According to Forbes , German firm Solar Millennium and its American front company - Solar Trust of America - have announced that they will not accept the 2.1 billion dollar Federal loan guarantee for the Blythe solar power project, and they are now going to use photovoltaic technology (the same panels used on rooftops!).   The company switched to photovoltaic (PV) technology from the antiquated solar trough design because PV is much more cost efficient.  However, the company's change in technology represents a significant departure from its original project application and may require additional environmental review.  The abrupt change in plans may have been the reason the company abandoned the Federal loan, which was granted based on its original solar trough plans.  The company will have to compete for private investments as the markets are taking an ugly turn. Initial construction for the 11 square-mile Blythe solar project has already destroyed sites considered sacred by Nati

Unsustainable Jobs

A pre-construction marker photographed in Ivanpah, March 2010. Brightsource Energy is well into the construction phase for its Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), with over one-third of the 5.6 square-mile site scraped of vegetation and wildlife.  BrightSource Energy touts the construction jobs it has created, in part funded by a 1.6 billion dollar taxpayer-backed loan guarantee under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. No doubt the workers receiving a paycheck from the company are in a better financial position for as long as the construction activity lasts.  Once the project is completed, only a small fraction of the current workforce will support plant operations. A solar facility in Nevada employed 350 construction workers, but only supported 5 permanent jobs afterward.  The project required millions in taxpayer funding. Central station solar on public lands is, at best, a stop gap economic measure that will not sustain economic growth for the worki

Public Encouraged to Comment on Stateline Solar Project

The Department of Interior initiated the environmental review process for First Solar's 3.4 square-mile Stateline solar power project , which would further jeopardize rare plant and wildlife in the beleaguered Ivanpah Valley.  The public is encouraged to attend a meeting on 31 August (details below) or contact the BLM with concerns (POC: Mr. Jeff Childers, Public Meeting to discuss Stateline Solar power project: Where: Primm Valley Golf Club 1 Yates Well Road Nipton, CA 92364 When: 31 August, 6-9 pm POC: Jeff Childers, More info: BLM press release, click here . Some issues of concern to consider: The Ivanpah Valley's habitat supports a robust and healthy desert tortoise population, which is special since the desert tortoise is in decline throughout its range. The Stateline project will put additional stress on a tortoise population already displaced and jeopardized by the construction of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah S

Worshiping Technology, Not Nature

How often have you read environmental magazines and websites rave about "green" technology? This is man's solution to man's problems--air pollution, oil spills in the seas and the removal of nature's mountain tops for coal. Many national environmental groups urge followers to think "Beyond Oil." I am thinking "Beyond Oil," but I'm not sure they have taken their own advice.  Many in the self-appointed environmental elite have become cheerleaders for a neutral, amoral man-made beast of steel and glass that they are convinced will solve the world's problems--renewable energy.   Speaking against this beast is blasphemy.  Don't remind them that some of the worst (ongoing) ecological disasters in America are the the fault of hyrdopower dams--also a form of renewable energy.  Don't tell them that 30-story tall wind turbines can kill up to 14 birds per megawatt generated .  Don't tell them that even a thousand square-miles of publ

Groups form to Oppose Industrialization of Wildlands

At least three groups have formed to fight back against energy company plans to industrialize wildlands in the Mojave Desert. All told, dozens of square miles are at stake as developers seek to install wind turbines as tall as 30 story buildings across hillsides, and blanket other open spaces with solar panels.  Unfortunately, renewable energy policy has encouraged an industrial solution that threatens the same ecosystems we seek to protect against climate change.  But groups like Solar Done Right are advocating for distributed energy generation, where we generate renewable energy at or near the point of use (such as rooftop solar panels).  Instead of giving companies taxpayer money to mow down public land, citizens are asking for a more reasonable solution.   Friends of Antelope Valley Open Spaces :  I wrote about this group earlier (see this post ) and its efforts to stop massive wind and solar developments on pristine ridges and wildflower fields that Californians have cherished f

New Energy Frontier: A Five Step Plan

What a week for solar companies!  They've developed a great process for profiting from one of the most destructive uses of public lands, and looking good in the process.  How did we end up with a renewable energy industry that jeopardizes more of our natural resources than it will save?  And how did the Obama Administration come up with the Cheney-esque phrase "New Energy Frontier"? Read on... Here is the secret to Big Solar success: Step 1.) Propose bulldozing pristine public lands to make way for solar panels.  Step 2.)  Come to an agreement with national environmental groups to make it all look "green". Step 3.) Win approval from Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar.  This is all "green" energy, so that should be easy.  Destroying hundreds of square-miles of public lands, putting up miles of new transmission lines, and funneling billions of dollars to energy companies is part of the Obama Administration's "New Energy Frontier&qu

Solar Project to be Built Just Outside Joshua Tree

The Department of Interior today approved the Desert Sunlight solar power project, which will destroy nearly 6 square-miles of public land less than two miles from Joshua Tree National Park.   Initial biological surveys counted at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows, but desert biologists are concerned that the surveys may have underestimated the number of tortoises on site. Ironically, Secretary Salazar announced the project on the 75th anniversary of Joshua Tree National Park, a shameless disregard for the legacy desert conservation.  Joshua Tree National Park may be further encircled by industrial development if the Department of Interior continues its policy of favoring energy companies over wildlands.  Additional proposals for large wind and solar energy applications just outside the Park's boundary include Desert Harvest solar project, the 31 square-mile Pinto Mountain wind project, and the 4.2 square-mile Eagle Mountain wind project.

Stateline Solar Begins Environmental Review Process

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has begun reviewing the proposed Stateline Solar power project, which is expected to destroy at least 3.4 square-miles of the Ivanpah Valley.  First Solar Inc. has been considering whether or not to move forward with this controversial project since the nearby Brightsource Energy solar project (ISEGS) has made headlines for its unprecedented impacts on the threatened Desert Tortoise. This map, obtained by Basin and Range Watch , shows the projected footprint of the photovoltaic panels that will carpet excellent desert habitat with steel and glass.  The desert habitat to the west of the Stateline project is already being bulldozed for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) by Brightsource Energy. Probably seeking to shield the company from expected opposition, First Solar is reportedly looking to strike a deal with NatureServe, a non-profit with Wall Street ties,  to draw up a conservation plan for the the Ivanpah Valley in an at

Vanishing Flowers

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. A map of the "Wildflower Green Energy Project" (in red), aptly named for the natural beauty the project will destroy.  The project would surround the California Poppy Reserve. The project would include wind turbines and solar panels, and require heavy ground disturbance. A map of the "Blue Sky" wind power project near Portal Ridge in the Antelope Valley.

Tehachapi Wind Project Under Scrutiny for Eagle Deaths

Update: The tally of known Golden Eagle deaths at the Pine Tree wind project site has risen to eight as of early 2012. A massive wind energy facility in California's Tehachapi Mountains has killed many migratory and special status birds, including at least 6 golden eagles, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  The bird mortality has prompted an investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service since the facility's bird mortality is far higher than most wind projects, according to the LA Times , and may result in prosecution if the inquiry finds violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The 12 square-mile Pine Tree Wind Project has only been in operation for 3 years in the mountains bordering the western Mojave Desert, and its unforeseen destructive impact on bird life should be a warning sign for local and Federal officials considering applications for several more facilities in the area. The environmental impact study for the Pine Tr

The Value of Rooftop Solar

Even though California Governor Brown thinks it is wise to "crush" the opposition against utility-scale solar power projects (does he realize that energy companies have plans for over a thousand square miles of wind and solar...that could require a lot of crushing!), I can say I do agree with his efforts to encourage more distributed generation.  Sacramento set a goal of generating 12,000 megawatts of distributed renewable energy, such as rooftop solar, by 2020.  There are a lot of local hurdles to the development of rooftop solar, such as sometimes arduous or expensive permitting processes at city halls across the State, as pointed out by this study by the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club.  Many consumers may also not be aware of the savings and benefits of owning their own rooftop solar installation. The California Energy Commission announced two new tools to advance distributed solar generation in the State.  The first is a new calculator called "SAVE" (