Showing posts from March, 2012

Desert Skies Deceptively Clear

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule in March that would effectively limit new fossil fuel plants from emitting more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (MWh) of energy produced.   The rule will impact new coal power plants that are still on the drawing board, and is an important step in limiting emissions from the energy sector, which is the biggest source of carbon pollution.  We still have a lot of work to stop polluters in the desert, however.   Many families moved to the desert regions of California in part to escape the notorious smog of the Los Angeles basin.  But the clear skies are deceptive since there are several industries -- including coal power plants -- spewing millions of tons of carbon and other harmful poisons into the air, hurting human health and contributing to climate change. The Sierra Club has launched a petition in support of the EPA's proposed rule, which could still be weakened or abandoned since the fossil

Forget Me Not

A "forget-me-not" ( Cryptantha angustifolia ?) only a few centimeters high blooms in the shelter of a giant granite boulder in the Mojave Desert, with lichen adding a dash of color to the granite.

Renewable Energy Industry Ignoring National Environmental Groups

Solar and wind energy companies are seeing their "green" image slip away as they stake claim to large swaths of sensitive wildlife habitat in America's southwest, and balk at conservation groups calling for smarter siting decisions.  Although many in the grassroots conservation community wish the national environmental groups would be more vocal and consistent in their stand on responsible renewable energy standards, even the handful of examples where national groups do demand that renewable energy projects reduce impacts on our ecosystems, the renewable energy industry and even policymakers have resisted. Calico Solar The Calico Solar power project is an example of the renewable energy industry watching their "green" image melt away.  National environmental groups gave solar companies and the Federal government a three year opportunity to clean up their act and find a better place to build a 7 square mile solar project.  Neither listened, and now the Sierr

California Governor's Office Silences Public Employees

Germany added over 5,000 megawatts of rooftop solar in one year without sacrificing any natural treasures.  Sacramento has spent nearly two years planning to destroy pristine desert for a 465 megawatt wind energy project.  And apparently they had to silence the stewards of our lands in order to get it done. California Governor Jerry Brown's office may have ordered state employees to suppress concerns about the environmental damage of a wind energy project, according to an East County Magazine and 10 News investigative report .  Stewards of California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park planned to submit comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the Ocotillo Express wind energy project, but the Governor's Office reportedly called them and ordered them not to submit comments.  Biologists and conservationists have raised concerns that the project, which the Pattern Energy Group will build on nearly 20 square miles of public land, threatens habitat for raptors, b

Sierra Club: Make Up Your Mind on Ivanpah

Will we listen to biologists, or First Solar's corporate executives? It seems like the obvious choice for an environmental organization would be to listen to the scientists that have declared Ivanpah Valley too ecologically important to bulldoze for additional solar projects.  For the Sierra Club, I'm still not sure which path we have chosen. As a Sierra Club member, I am frustrated that my organization remains irresolute regarding the future of the Ivanpah Valley.  The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has recognized the ecological significance of Ivanpah, and earlier this year encouraged members nationwide to submit comments on  the Department of Interior's Solar Programmatic EIS supplement that mentioned Ivanpah as an area not suitable for additional solar projects. Yet the Club now appears to be working to find a way to permit more large solar projects in this treasured place. On 21 March, the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter met with First Solar, probably giv

Oil Industry to Profit from Ivanpah Solar Project

Enbridge -- Canada's largest transporter of crude oil with projects in the infamous tar sands -- will now profit from a solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, according to Reuters .   Enbridge is buying First Solar's Silver State North project, which destroyed nearly a square mile of ecologically intact desert habitat that serves as a critical genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and other species.  First Solar is also proposing to expand this project with a much larger second phase known as Silver State South .  These facilities use the same type of solar panel that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands. Photo by Basin and Range Watch of the Silver State North project, which bulldozed nearly a square mile of intact desert habitat. Enbridge is proudly touting its purchase of Silver State North as a "green" badge of honor.  It appears to be lost on Enbridge that they are profiting from the isolation of desert torto

Speak Up for Local Clean Energy

Here is another opportunity to remove barriers to local and democratic clean energy, so get ready to fire off an e-mail to Uncle Sam no later than 26 March.  Instructions below. What is PACE? So far, 27 states have approved Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which allow homeowners to improve energy efficiency or install rooftop solar panels and pay the costs over time through their own property tax assessment.  PACE is similar to other "special assessment" programs that have been used by municipalities for decades to finance public or private property improvements that benefit the community.  Since energy efficiency and distributed generation reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create local jobs,  and are better alternatives than building expensive new power plants and transmission lines that destroy wildlands, PACE is certainly in the public's interest. Who is Blocking PACE? Despite Washington's rhetorical support for clean energy, it is a Federal age

Sierra Club Joins Call for Mandatory Wind Energy Guidelines

The Sierra Club informed the Department of Interior in January that it supports mandatory guidelines for the wind energy industry that would protect wildlife,  strengthening its previously expressed position that only favored voluntary guidelines, according to the March issue of the Desert Report .  The move is a positive sign that the Sierra Club hopefully recognizes that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the destructive potential of any energy source -- whether that is coal, natural gas, wind or solar -- and that the conservation community should protect our natural resources instead of facilitating their destruction for the benefit of corporate profit.  The Sierra Club's letter  follows a petition submitted by the American Bird Conservancy in December asking Washington to establish a mandatory permitting system that will hold the wind energy industry accountable to environmental law. According to the Sierra Club letter to Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar: ".

Nopah Range

The Nopah Range at sunrise in the Mojave Desert, east of Death Valley National Park.

BrightSource Energy Complains About Due Diligence

BrightSource Energy, while receiving bad press for displacing or killing over 160 desert tortoises at its Ivanpah Solar project, is now complaining that the California Energy Commission (CEC) and US Fish and Wildlife Service are requiring it to conduct thorough bird and bat surveys for its proposed Rio Mesa Solar project.  BrightSource on 27 February filed a document with the CEC objecting to the avian surveys, part of its ongoing protest of the environmental review process.   Officials and citizens have expressed profound concern because the Rio Mesa Solar facility would be built along the Colorado River in a key bird migration corridor known as the Pacific Flyway.  The facility would also be located near the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge , which hosts 288 species of birds.  A past study has indicated high rates of avian mortality at power tower solar facilities, and State and Federal officials are keen to understand whether or not Federally protected raptors and migratory bird

More Hurdles for First Solar

Before First Solar commits to building solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, they should take a close look at BrightSource Energy's experience there.  The Los Angeles Times today posted an insightful article on the costs of building a solar energy project on some of the best desert tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert.  Focused on BrightSource Energy's solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, the LA Times describes communications in which BrightSource Energy complains about the costs of relocating tortoises, saying "[t]his truly could kill the project".  Yet it was BrightSource's choice to ignore the warnings of biologists and build on a site noted for the relative abundance of tortoises. The alarm bells are still ringing and the red lights are flashing, but First Solar is proceeding defiantly with the environmental review process for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  Conservationists warn that those project sites also cont

Student Art Project Depicts Unwise Burden on Desert Wildlands

Biologist have expressed concern that the scale of proposed utility-scale renewable energy development in America's southwestern deserts could push various species of plants and wildlife to the brink by destroying or fragmenting large swaths of otherwise ecologically intact wildlands. This energy model ignores the opportunities to build on already-disturbed lands or focus on distributed generation -- such as rooftop solar -- and will ironically compound the challenges wildlife will face as a result of human-induced climate change.  The desert tortoise is an icon of this quandary, and it caught the attention of high school student Halle Rayn Kohn.  In a mixed media piece of art using acrylic paint, sandpaper, and a collage of pictures and magazine cut-outs, Halle's art depicts a species burdened by human energy demands. An image of the original art work, used with permission from the artist.  The piece was part of an AP Studio Art project in California. The piece was display