Death by a Thousand Cuts: Renewable Energy Plans Imperil Desert Ecosystem

Updated information from the Bureau of Land Management depicts the enormous scale of plans to build solar and wind energy facilities on mostly pristine public land, endangering iconic species such as the desert tortoise and golden eagle, locking up prized outdoor recreation areas, and forever changing the character of California's deserts.   The BLM approved a wave of applications in 2010 totaling some 40 square-miles, the most destructive of which continue to face public and legal opposition, and continues to review dozens of additional projects (sampled below) without adequately assessing the cumulative impacts of so much industrial development on desert ecosystems. Although the Department of Interior is developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, both plans will likely focus on maximizing industrial development with conservation functions that are unlikely to effectively counteract the ripple effects on na

Shout Out to Desert Survivors

I've highlighted some great conservation groups in previous blog posts that have devoted a lot of time and passion to desert issues.  Desert Protective Council , Basin and Range Watch , Western Lands Project , and Western Watersheds Project, for example.  Another great group to check out is Desert Survivors . This non-profit has been around since 1981, advocating for desert conservation, but also organizing hiking and camping trips throughout the southwest. They are also one of the many advocates trying to draw attention to the pitfalls of utility-scale solar on pristine public land, and the benefits of investing in distributed generation (e.g. rooftop solar) instead.  Most recently they held an educational protest outside the headquarters of BrightSource Energy, which is building a 5.6 square miles solar facility that is expected to displace or kill hundreds of desert tortoises. Shameless plug: You can become a member , support desert advocacy, receive the newsletter, and pa

10 Million Solar Rooftops Act of 2011

Earlier this month I wrote about about legislation that could revolutionize the rooftop solar industry, making it much more accessible to homeowners.  The PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 ( H.R.2599 ) would allow homeowners to finance a new rooftop solar installation through their property tax assessment, paying for it over time.  Another bill worth calling attention to is the 10 Million Solar Rooftops Act of 2011 ( S.1108 ), which would establish competitive grants to encourage municipalities and local utilities to increase distributed solar generation.  The aim of the grants would be to streamline local permit processes, and also implement interconnection and net-metering, which would ultimately allow a homeowner to sell excess renewable energy generated by rooftop solar panels back to the grid. Local permitting has complicated the deployment of distributed generation in some areas.  For example, a Sierra Club study in Southern California found that some cities charged per

Governor Brown's Pledge to Crush Democracy

California Governor Jerry Brown yesterday told the renewable energy industry he would "crush" citizen opposition to massive solar facilities on pristine wild lands.  When a politician publicly vows to "crush" citizen opposition to the energy industry you have to wonder who they work for.  Governor Brown should not brush off public outrage at plans to industrialize hundreds of square miles of pristine desert as the "kind of opposition you have to crush." America wants more renewable energy, but we do not need to abandon democratic principles in order to achieve that goal. These projects affect every community and ratepayer in California because they will wipe out treasured open spaces and increase electricity costs unnecessarily.    So it's disheartening that Brown belittled the voice of voters, lamenting the fact that he had to "talk a little bit," with concerned citizens, but saying "at the end of the day you have to move forward,

Governor Brown Misses the Point on Ivanpah

California Governor Jerry Brown's office filed a legal brief supporting the destructive Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  The legal brief was filed in response to a lawsuit from Western Watersheds Project seeking to halt construction of the Ivanpah project on the grounds that the Federal government conducted a faulty and hasty environmental review.  Since construction began, it has become clear that the earlier environmental review conducted by California and the Feds vastly underestimated the number of endangered desert tortoises on the project site. Although the Governor is also seeking to increase distributed generation (e.g. rooftop solar), his support for one of the most environmentally destructive solar projects suggests his office does not understand the poor precedent set by the Ivanpah project in destroying pristine desert instead of siting such projects on already- disturbed lands .  A ccording to the Governor's legal bri

Legislation Could Revolutionize Rooftop Solar Financing

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this month would enable homeowners across the country to install rooftop solar and pay by installments on their local property tax assessment, also known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).  The PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 ( H.R.2599 ) would cut red tape placed by Federal mortgage lenders (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) and free homeowners to take advantage of local PACE programs.  PACE does not involve government subsidies or broad taxes, and at least 27 States have adopted legislation supporting this tool, but are currently held back by the Federal mortgage lenders. Rooftop solar installations have a positive impact on property values, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory,  and paying for an installation over time through PACE makes such upgrades much more accessible to the public.  One pitfall in the legislation is that it may put rural communities or homeowners in lower economic brackets at a disadvantage.  The b

Environmental Groups Bow to Wind Industry Pressure on Bird Deaths

Despite studies that wind energy projects are responsible for at least 440,000 bird deaths each year --a number expected to climb to one million by the year 2030--Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy have signaled tentative agreement with voluntary wind energy guidelines that would reverse US Fish and Wildlife recommendations to protect birds, according to E&E news .  The acquiescence of big environmental groups  to energy industry demands is disheartening, underscoring the important role of organizations that work to balance conservation and renewable energy without compromising on core environmental principles, such as Solar Done Right , Western Watersheds Project , and the American Bird Conservancy . The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has registered its concern with the draft guidelines, which cut out recommendations by scientists working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at the insistence of the wind energy industry.  “Given the Administration’s commitment