Showing posts from August, 2012

Desert Report - New Issue Available

The September issue of the Sierra Club Desert Committee's Desert Report is now available, and contains some great articles on a range of issues impacting desert conservation. Check it out! Here are some of the issue's contents: • The Colorado River Delta: Present And Future • Las Vegas Valley’s Treasure Trove Of Ice Age Fossils • Fast, Furious, And Anonymous: Off-Road Vehicle Riders Violate The Law With Impunity • The Palo Verde Mesa: Sacrificed For Solar Energy • An Ill-Wind Blows In Ocotillo, California • The Death Of The California Desert • Saving The Greater Sage-Grouse…And The Sagebrush Sea • Desert Tortoise Conservation • Outings • Current Issues

Solar for All

Rooftop solar is already revolutionizing the way we think about energy.  Instead of letting utility companies call the shots, destroy our wildlands, burn fossil fuels, and then send us charge us for this destruction,  local solar installations allow us to invest in our communities, cut carbon emissions, save wildlands, and give us leverage over our utility companies.  This is frightening to utility companies, and they have sought to weaken any policy initiatives that would encourage greater adoption of rooftop solar. In California, legislators introduced a bill known as "Solar for All" (AB 1990) that would mandate that utility companies buy 190 megawatts of clean energy generated by solar panels in our cities.  The fate of this effort is uncertain, as utility company lobbyists are hitting Sacramento to fight local clean energy.  As Sierra Club My Generation organizer put it in a recent opinion piece in the San Bernardino Sun: The source of Edison's and other private

Feds Signal Approval for Project Despite Incomplete Research

The Department of Interior has placed First Solar’s Silver State South solar project on the notorious “fast track” list, which means senior political appointees in Washington probably expect to approve the project within the next year, rushing ahead of studies still in progress to understand how the project will impact desert tortoise habitat connectivity.   According to an initial report obtained by Basin and Range Watch, biologists were slated to begin a full year of data collection this year aimed at understanding whether or not First Solar's project will cut off genetic connectivity between different tortoise populations by destroying a narrow slice of habitat linking two regions of the Mojave Desert.   The researchers are studying nearby swaths of rougher and higher elevation desert terrain for their potential to provide connectivity from the Ivanpah Valley to other regions of the desert -- if they do not serve as a genetic linkage, the First Solar project could deliver a si


The death of desert solitude. Originally a pristine view of Mojave Desert wildlands and the Spirit Mountain in southern Nevada. [click on image to expand]

Aerial Photos Show Wind Project's Toll on the Desert

Pattern Energy has begun clearing beautiful desert near Anza-Borrego State Park for the nearly 16 square mile Ocotillo Express Wind project.  Once completed, the facility will consist of 112 wind turbines, each one standing over 400 feet tall, and requiring wide new roads carved into the fragile desert soil. Photographer Phillip Colla gives us a birds-eye view of the beginning phase of the destruction with a series of images available at his website .  The photos were made possible by aviation support provided by LightHawk . A photograph of preparations for a single wind turbine pad.  Notice the new dirt road, and clearing around the pad, with a deep pit that will be filled with tons of cement and steel to anchor the turbine.  Photo by Phillip Colla . Aviation support provided by LightHawk. Wide new roads are carved into the desert soil to accommodate construction traffic and the arrival of turbine parts larger than an average home.  The disturbance of the soil for roads wil

Desert Lands Policy: Wind Industry Gets Reality Check

If you have been listening to the the past few stakeholder conferences for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) -- an inter-agency effort to protect desert ecosystems while identifying areas suitable for renewable energy in California's deserts -- then you know that representatives from the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA) sound disappointed as their plans to industrialize much of California's desert wildlands meet resistance.   Some of the DRECP's proposed development focus areas would only accommodate 2-17% of the nearly 2 million acres to which the wind industry initially requested access. The wind industry expressed frustration during the meetings, wondering aloud why they cannot bulldoze desert, carve hundreds of miles of new roads, and set up massive wind turbines standing over 400 feet tall across public lands. It is a rude awakening for CalWEA and other industry officials to the realities of the desert, where stakeholders have been in

Energy Efficiency vs. Desert Destruction

It is easy to overlook the power each individual can exercise simply by switching off lights that are not being used, upgrading appliances, or unplugging your cell phone charger.  A July 2009 study by McKinsey and Company found enormous energy efficiency potential in the United States, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory packaged that data in a map that helps us understand just how much money and electricity we could be saving if we lived more sustainably and built more efficient homes and appliances. The 30 cities with the most potential energy efficiency savings could cut a combined 261,107 gigawatt hours (GWh).  To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of shutting down dozens of dirty fossil fuel plants.   That energy savings is also the equivalent of nearly 241 desert-destroying solar projects like BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar facility, which has already decimated 5.6 square miles of pristine Mojave Desert habitat. [click on image to expand] Th

Desert Lands Policy: Uncertainty Sends Stakeholders Scrambling

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan ( DRECP ) process is proving surprising in how much it could affect -- for good or bad -- California's desert landscape, and it is about to move to the stage of the process that begins to finalize proposed policies in an environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision. The aim of the DRECP is to craft a land management policy that would direct renewable energy development to lands assessed to be of lesser ecological importance, and designate other swaths of land as inappropriate for development. You may be thinking: didn't the Department of Interior just finalize its solar energy policy in the desert? The answer is a qualified yes.  Interior published the final environmental impact statement for its solar energy development policy, which will mostly give the renewable energy industry freedom to build wherever it wants on our southwestern desert wildlands, with a few exceptions .  But the DRECP is like a second lay

Desert Marine Base Expansion Nears Final Approval

The Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in July took one more step closer to expanding the boundary of its facility when it released a Final Environmental Impact Statement -- a document that takes a close look at the impacts of the plan on the environment and current uses of the area.   Once the plan is approved, the base will acquire an additional 262 square miles of adjacent land--well over twice the size of Orlando, Florida--for training scenarios in the open desert, but the expansion would also deprive off-highway vehicle riders of a major recreation area and pose a new burden to desert widlife.   The Marine Base expansion is just one of many demands on desert wildlands that will continue to challenge the stability of the ecosystem and the recovery of already-beleaguered plants and animals. OHV Area Takes a Hit The base expansion will declare a significant portion of the existing Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area off limits, generating sig

Find a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Near You

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) routinely sponsors field trips in the desert and nearby mountains, know as a " rare plant treasure hunt ," checking out local plant populations and looking for some of the rarest plants in our regions.   Intrepid plant enthusiasts earlier this year hiked far into the craggy mountains near Death Valley in search of the rare Panamint Daisy (they found it!), while others scouted out the San Gabriel Mountans and the Mojave National Preserve in search of special blooms.  It's a great way to enjoy desert wildlands and learn more about the ecosystem. The Bristlecone and Creosote Ring Chapters in Southern California have a few more trips planned, and you can check those out at their chapter websites here and here .

Hidden Hills Solar: Chorus of Concern Grows

As BrightSource Energy's construction hums along at its Ivanpah Solar project site in the northeastern Mojave Desert, the company's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project further north is being scrutinized as the California Energy Commission (CEC) accepts comments on a preliminary staff assessment of the project's potential impacts.  As noted earlier on this blog, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was one of the first to note some serious deficiencies in the CEC's staff assessment, with a focus on the project's demand for scarce groundwater supplies.  Since then, several other parties--including Native American tribes, the National Park Service, Center for Biological Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Amargosa Conservancy--have expressed concerns for water and wildlife,  while Inyo County reiterated its expectation that BrightSource Energy compensate it for millions of dollars worth of increased services needed in the remote corner of California where the

Wind Facilities Sparking Wildland Fires

As if climate change-induced drought and aridity were not enough of a stress on our desert ecosystems, industrial wind energy facilities creeping across our wildlands are proving to pose a serious fire risk.  As KCET and Friends of Mojave reported late last week, a wind turbine failure caused a fire near Tehachapi, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert.   And last month, an older wind turbine in the desert of Riverside County and along the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest sparked a fire that luckily only burned about 367 acres before it was extinguished.   The fires are yet another sign that the wind industry and wildlands do not coexist harmoniously, as some environmental groups have suggested .