Showing posts from July, 2012

Understanding the Scale of Destruction

The Ivanpah Solar project being built in the northeastern Mojave Desert will destroy nearly 5.6 square miles of desert habitat when it is completed, an swath of previously pristine desert that is difficult to fathom.  Thousands of creosote bushes, Mojave yucca, cholla cactus, and rare wildflowers. Cactus wrens, thrashers, and burrowing owls.  Kit foxes, and jackrabbits. Rattlesnakes and desert iguanas. And a thriving population of desert tortoises.  All of this is lost in our quest to generate 392 megawatts of solar energy -- electrons that could have been produced more efficiently and responsibly with rooftop solar. [click on image to expand]   The Ivanpah Solar facility creeps across once pristine desert in the northeastern Mojave Desert. Built in three phases, this photo was taken when desert for only two of the phases had been cleared and bulldozed. [click on image to expand] A fraction of phase 2 is visible in this photo, identifiable by the missing vegetation. Further in

Desert Solar Policy to Create Key Exclusion Areas -- With a Catch

As part of the Department of Interior's proposed Solar Energy Development Program, some lands outside of the solar energy zones and variance areas will be identified as "exclusion areas" where solar applications will no longer be accepted.  These exclusion areas include some key conservation battlegrounds, including the Ivanpah Valley, lands within the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, and lands outside of the proposed Monument that were donated or acquired for conservation purposes.  From section ES. of the proposed policy: Under the program alternative, the BLM proposes to exclude specific categories of land from utility-scale solar energy development. Right-of way exclusion areas are defined as areas that are not available for location of ROWs under any conditions... The identification of exclusion areas allows the BLM to support the highest and best use of public lands by avoiding potential resource conflicts and reserving for other uses public land t

Clark Mountain

Clark Mountain is an impressive mass towering over the desert, and visible from many parts of the Mojave National Preserve. This photo was taken from the New York Mountains, with Clark Mountain in the distance, across the Ivanpah Valley.

Time for a Change

How much has changed since Michael Jackson's Earth Song video was released in the mid-1990s?  The most sustainable change starts from the grassroots. Not from slogans, mass e-mails, glossy PR campaigns, or Wall Street.

Respect the Soil Crust

Of all nature's wonders that capture our attention, it's easy to take our soil for granted. But a new study reaffirms the importants of cryptobiotic soil crusts.  As the study explains, "organisms fuse with soil particles, stabilizing desert crusts and forming fragile peaks in the soil that influence a variety of processes to allocate important resources." KCET published a great article on these crusts and explaining the important functions they play in desert ecosystems.  These layers take many years to form, and are very fragile.  As we disturb and destroy desert soils, we are turning back the clock on an ecological fabric that could take decades to repair itself. The dark striations on the soil in the center area of the photo is a patch of cryptobiotic crust in the Ivanpah Valley, where First Solar plans to build its Silver State South solar power project.

Desert Solar Policy Codifies Status Quo

The Department of Interior today released the final version of a policy that will smooth the way for industrial-scale solar energy development on public lands throughout America's southwestern deserts.   Even though Interior weakened environmental protections seen in earlier drafts, and crafted the policy to meet industry demands--essentially putting on paper what is already Interior's de facto policy of allowing solar companies to bulldoze wherever they please--several national environmental groups still applauded the announcement, including the Sierra Club, NRDC, the Wilderness Society, and the national Audubon Society.  Their statements of support for the policy probably represent efforts to put positive spin on what is ultimately an environmental catastrophe for the renewable energy industry and our public lands. Corporate Giveaway of Public Lands The final policy--which is expected to be signed by Secretary Salazar later this year--designates nearly 30,000 square miles

BrightSource Energy Falling Short on Mitigation Measures

Biologists tried to warn BrightSource Energy not to build a massive solar project in the Ivanpah Valley -- an area with a particularly high number of the normally hard-to-find desert tortoise.  The company did not listen, and the company's costly plans to "mitigate" its environmental damage may not do much to improve the recovery of this threatened species.  Now that it has mowed and bulldozed nearly 5.6 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat, the company is now responsible for nearly 400 orphaned or displaced tortoises that have survived the bulldozer blades or were born to mothers that were put in cages during construction. Several tortoises died last year after being attacked by ants in their holding pens, or after they were left wandering the construction area now devoid of any life-saving shade and burrows.  In May, the company reported to the California Energy Commission (CEC) that 6 tortoises have been lost -- three of the tortoises were juveniles being he

BLM Voices Concerns Over BrightSource Water Use

BLM sent a letter to the California Energy Commission (CEC) this month recommending stronger measures to mitigate or monitor BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project.  If approved, the project would be built in the Pahrump Valley next to th California-Nevada border, and draw an estimated 227.1 million gallons of water during a 29-month construction period, and 45.6 million gallons each year during operation.  Groundwater is already severely overdrawn in the Pahrump Valley, causing subsidence in the land that may ultimately reduce. the amount of water that can be stored. BLM provided the following photo of large cracks in the land near the proposed Hidden Hills solar site-- an indication of subsidence resulting from overdrawn groundwater. Photo from BLM submission to the CEC. In its submission to the CEC, BLM noted that simply requiring BrightSource to replace extracted water at some point over the expected 30 year life of the project may not be sufficient

People Are Green, Not Companies

Many national environmmental groups think that the solution is to find alliances with multi-million dollar companies on Wall Street to advance a sustainable agenda. But when they do that, they have to make compromises on how they define "sustainable" and "green".  The world can only be sustainable if the 99% acts sustainably.  Solar panels on rooftops, not on desert wildlands.  Flipping off the light switch for the room you are not using. Recycling your plastics.  Taking a bike, and not a car.  Sharing the planet with a growing population will not be easy, and saving the wildlands we love will be even more challenging.

Speak Up: USFWS to Extend Eagle Kill Permits

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is accepting public comments until midnight 12 July on a proposal to extend eagle "take" permits -- permission to kill or harass protected bald and golden eagles -- from 5 years to 30 years.  The move is intended to make it easier for the wind energy industry, which is building massive wind facilities that are already killing the protected birds. For some good background, Chris Clarke wrote a great piece on the proposed rule on KCET.  The bottom line, though, is that wildlife officials will end up giving permission to wind companies to kill eagles over a 30-year period, and eliminate flexibility to save the birds if their numbers dwindle during those 30 years.  How will the USFWS save a threatened bald or golden eagle population if they cannot do anything to stop one of the birds' biggest threats -- spinning wind turbines -- because they issued too many permits some 30 years earlier? Locking wildlife management into 30-year co

Sierra Club Endorses Wyoming Wind Farm That Will Slaughter Golden Eagles

The Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign and the group's Deputy Conservation Director applauded Department of Interior's plans to authorize a 355 square mile industrial wind facility in Wyoming that is expected to kill as many as 5,400 birds and 6,300 bats each year .   The Club's "Blowing in the Right Direction" article in Grist claims the energy could be shipped nearly 700 miles to Nevada in order to replace the dirty Reid Gardner coal plant, even though the Sierra Club released a study in June saying that Reid Gardner could be shut down by implementing local energy efficiency measures that actually save ratepayers money.  From the environmental impact statement.  Alternative 1R is the proposal that Interior plans to approve, despite the heavy toll on wildlife. Extensive Impacts The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project -- a single project divided into two units that each span over 100,000 acres of mostly ecologically intact W

Clean Coalition and Sierra Club of California Demand More Robust Feed-in-Tariff

The Clean Coalition and Sierra Club of California filed a petition demanding that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reconsider and strengthen its planned implementation of a feed-in-tariff (FiT). Solar Done Right applauds this petition and encourages the CPUC to implement a more robust FiT. Local clean energy advocates believe that the CPUC’s late May decision on how to implement California SB 32—a law passed in 2009 requiring CPUC and utilities to expand FiT programs in the state—failed to address the law’s requirements and does not fairly compensate ratepayers for the value of distributed generation. Specifically, the petition notes that the FiT formula in the CPUC decision does not recognize one of the greatest benefits of rooftop solar installations to other utility ratepayers—the avoidance of new transmission and distribution costs, which are required when the utility companies invest in expensive and remote power plants far from the point of use. The petition

BrightSource Energy and NextEra Assume Control of Two Proposed Solar Projects

BrightSource Energy -- the company that has destroyed 5.6 square miles of pristine desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley for a massive solar facility there -- recently assumed responsibility for Solar Trust of America's (STA) proposed Palen Solar power project during an auction of bankrupt Solar Trust of America's project pipeline. The project would be built on nearly 8 square miles of desert habitat between Blythe and Desert Center, California, and would impact Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat. The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved STA's Palen Solar project in December 2010, but would presumably have to conduct revised assessments since BrightSource probably would alter the proposed project to include power tower technology.  BrightSource Energy filed a petition with the  CEC, however, seeking to "transfer ownership of the Final Decision" approving the original Palen project.   The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has previously expressed c

Do You Know Where Your Solar Energy Will Come From?

Why is Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) buying solar power from hundreds of miles away when the sun shines on PG&E customers' rooftops just like it shines anywhere else?   The utility company for much of northern and central California plans to buy solar power from BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar facility, which would be built in a remote corner of California known as Charleston View.  Getting that energy to our cities will require depleting natural resources far from PG&E customers, lots of money, and a financial gamble by a small electric utility in Nevada. Where the Heck is Charleston View? Charleston View is located in the Pahrump Valley on the border of California and Nevada, east of Death Valley National Park.  Travelers and traders use to cross this remote stretch of desert along the Old Spanish Trail and stop at natural springs that are fed by groundwater flows originating in the nearby Spring Mountains - a majestic range overlooki