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Solar Power Siting in the Desert Not Yet Matured

California's next gold rush is in full swing as energy speculators scout out new sites for utility-scale solar energy construction. Neither the energy companies, environmentalists, or policy makers seem to have set an efficient process for finding suitable locations for the competing demands, reflecting the immaturity of the solar rush.  It's clear that the different stakeholders in the solar rush have not fully considered their own position, let alone the potential compromises that are needed for a positive outcome.

In a recent editorial, the Los Angeles Times criticized Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010) for not including enough incentives for solar energy development, declaring that CDPA 2010 would set aside too much desert land when solar energy development should be given a higher priority.  Although the editorial acknowledges that the goals of renewable energy and conservation are not mutually exclusive, theLA Times…

Mojave Desert Land Trust Persevering Toward Quail Mountain Goal

The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is persevering towards its goal of raising enough funds to purchase 955 acres adjacent to the northwestern portion of Joshua Tree National Park, deemed an integral wildlife migration corridor.  The area likely hosts bobcat, desert tortoise, and bighorn sheep.

MDLT's land stewardship and preservation efforts represent true grassroots efforts to conserve some of the most ecologically sensitive and important Mojave Desert habitat.   The MDLT successfully raised funds and purchased land at Nolina Peak, also near Joshua Tree, in 2008.  MDLT's efforts dovetail well with Senator Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2010, which includes a proposed "Sand to Snow National Monument" that essentially extends preservation from western Joshua Tree National Park into the San Bernardino National Forest.

California Desert Protection Act of 2010

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Senator Feinstein's office released more details on her proposal to create two national monuments in the Mojave Desert on her official site.  In the press release, the Senator lays out policy implementation that balances the need to preserve desert wilderness,  and scenic vistas along the iconic and Historic Route 66, and reconciling this with the need to make the renewable energy siting question more efficient. The California Desert Protection Act of 2010 summary also lays out plans to designate an additional 250,000 acres of wilderness area on lands previously designated as wilderness study areas.


The plan is already receiving some negative attention, however, most notably from environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a New York Times interview.  Kennedy also happens to have a financial stake in solar energy development as an investor in Brightsource Energy.  In the interview Kennedy slams Feinstein for taking "land off the table without a proper and scientific environmenta…

Feinstein Proposes 2 national monuments in Mojave Desert

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According to an article in the LA Times (link below), Senator Dianne Feinstein revealed more details regarding her proposed legislation that would set aside additional Mojave Desert land for conservation as Mojave Trails National Monument and Sand to Snow National Monument.  The legislation would also establish current off-road vehicle areas as permanent.  Feinstein estimated that passage of the legislation would occur in late 2010 at the earliest, and the LA Times noted that the territory would include 19 areas sought after by energy companies for solar and wind development.


Based on the rough map posted with the LA Times article, it's not clear if the Ivanpah or Solar Energy One developments would be impacted by the proposed legislation. Separate legislation on solar energy by the Senator would add incentives for energy companies to consolidate "disturbed land" that is better suited for solar energy since it has less biological value.  Disturbed land is generally harder…

Got Water?

Finding a location for industrial growth in the Mojave that provides the most public benefit with the least impact is always the key challenge, and one discussed in other postings on Mojave Desert Blog.  It's unfortunate, then, that the Beacon Solar Energy Project proposed near California City in the Northwestern Mojave is running into a seemingly obvious hurdle.  The project's proposed site is perfect from a biological standpoint -- the land was previously used for agriculture and has little value as habitat.  Developing this land (approximately 2,000 acres) would not deprive endangered species of key habitat but would provide up to 250 MW of renewable energy.

So what's the hold-up?  Water.  The developers want to used cooling technology that requires vast amounts of water.  If built as proposed, the California Energy Commission estimates that the solar project would use 1400 acre feet per year, which is equivalent to about 456 million gallons.

Ironically, other solar ene…

Astronomy in the Mojave

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Another resource taken for granted in the Mojave Desert -- clear night skies.

Check out this photograph taken outside of Victorville that captures a Geminid meteorite as it crosses the night sky above the Mojave, as posted here.




Photo belongs to Wally Pacholka at Astropics.com

Mojave Desert 2020

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One of the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act is to consider the long-term effects on our country's natural resources, and the Environmental Impact Statement process being carried out for multiple utility-scale solar energy projects in the desert should account for the long-term impact of each project under consideration.   Given that the current applications for use of desert habitat in California total over 500,000 acres, the long-term impact on the Mojave Desert as a place to live, visit or enjoy will be considerable even if only a fraction of these are approved.

Consider the case of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generation System (ISEGS) in the Northeastern portion of the Mojave Desert as an example.  Although the footprint of the site is not all that large (approximately 4,000 acres) considering that ISEGS will actually provide much needed renewable energy, the affect the site has on the Mojave as a whole will be larger.  Some of the effects of the construction and ope…