Mission Accomplished...

Secretary of Interior Salazar is going to visit First Solar's Silver State solar project in Nevada on 20 September to tout "green" jobs and economic recovery. About 200 workers busily installing solar panels on once-pristine desert will provide Salazar with a backdrop that is sure to make headlines.  If the reporters bother to come back next year, the construction workers will have melted away, leaving no more than 10 permanent jobs.  And unless the Obama administration focuses on solar policy that creates a sustainable consumer-based market for solar in our cities, those reporters will still be covering contentious projects on public land that require large subsidies.

First Solar began construction earlier this year on the first phase of the Silver State project, which will destroy a 1 square mile of desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley, but they are applying to expand the project to well over 10 square miles in the second phase.    Notice that Salazar isn't going to visit an even bigger and busier solar site just a few miles across the Ivanpah Valley.  Perhaps it is because that other project--Brightsource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS)--is receiving 1.6 billion dollars from the Department of Energy's (DOE) beleaguered loan guarantee program? 

If Salazar thinks he can escape poor choices and bad investments, he's wrong.  First Solar may not be getting a taxpayer-backed loan for the Silver State project, but they are receiving 4.5 billion dollars in DOE loan guarantees for other projects, including a 1.88 billion dollar loan for the Desert Sunlight solar project next to Joshua Tree National Park. 
 Ecologically intact desert wildlands pictured above would be destroyed for First Solar's Stateline solar power project.  Further in the distance on equally important habitat, First Solar is building its first phase of the Silver State project, with plans to build at least another 10 square miles in the second phase.  Biologists expect First Solar's projects to doom the threatened desert tortoise and several rare plant species.  Photo by Basin and Range Watch.
First Solar's approved and pending solar projects will destroy over 30 square miles of public land in California, Arizona, and Nevada (Silver State, Stateline, Desert Sunlight, Topaz and Agua Caliente solar projects).   All told, First Solar will receive at least 4.5 billion dollars in DOE loan guarantees for various projects.   Some of it's projects will require new transmission lines that will cost electricity customers more money.   Anywhere from 7-15% of the electricity generated by First Solar's projects in the middle of the desert will seep out of the transmission lines along the way, robbing those customers of even more value.

Maybe Salazar will peer out of the airplane window as his plane lands at Las Vegas McCarran airport and witness the sea of empty rooftops baking in the desert sun.  America is still waiting for a real solar policy, and it does not involve destroying public lands.  We can keep shoving industrial development onto once pristine valleys in the meantime, but we'll regret the loss of wildlands and wildlife.  America is still waiting for policies like PACE and feed-in-tariffs to encourage a rooftop solar market that creates even more jobs, costs less money, and preserves our natural heritage.


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