Small Solar Adds Up

The Los Angeles Times published a great article this weekend explaining the virtues of smaller distributed solar generation on rooftops and on disturbed lands in our cities. Distributed generation is a cheaper clean energy solution for ratepayers than big solar on remote desert wildlands, saving money and the climate. We can overcome roadblocks to more wide scale deployment of solar on rooftops and in our cities by cutting administrative red tape at the local level, and encouraging Washington to lift the Federal Housing Finance Agency's hold on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which would allow homeowners to finance rooftop solar through their own propert tax assessments. As the LA Times explains , utility companies profit from the large and destructive desert solar plants, which is why they have opposed efforts to encourage solar in our cities by blocking legislation that could make rooftop solar more accessible to residents and small businesses: Built in far-flung locatio

Shrinking Silver State South

As I mentioned in a previous post , First Solar's application to build the Silver State South solar project on public land in the Ivanpah Valley does not add up.  Southern California Edison only wants to buy 250 megawatts (MW) of energy from the facility, and provided a large generator interconnection agreement (permission to use transmission lines) for 230MW, yet First Solar asked BLM for permission to build a 350 MW facility. That is at least 100 MW of solar facility that may not even be economically feasible. The math means a lot because the Silver State South project would be built at one of the narrowest points of the Ivanpah Valley, which serves as an important habitat linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  A bigger solar facility equates to a narrower (or non-existent) habitat linkage.  A weak or non-existent habitat linkage means this species may lose genetic diversity and resilience needed to face continuing threats to its recovery, including disease, habitat loss,

Cost of Coal

The Sierra Club launched its Cost of Coal campaign, taking a look at the toll of this fossil fuel on our communities and ecosystems.  One of the videos features Kami Miller, who lives in the northeastern Mojave Desert town of Moapa, Nevada in the shadow of the Reid Gardner Coal plant.  A study by the Sierra Club earlier this year found that energy efficiency investments by the utility company -- NV Energy -- would allow them to shut down all four coal burners at Reid Gardner, and save customers $59 million over 20 years.  Efficiency, distributed generation, and larger solar facilities on already-disturbed land can responsibly and sustainably break our addiction to coal.

BLM Takes Another Piecemeal Step in Ivanpah

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late November issued the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for First Solar's Stateline Solar power project, only a month after issuing the Silver State South Solar DEIS -- both projects would be built in the Ivanpah Valley.  The BLM's draft documents lay out a plan allowing First Solar to bulldoze approximately 8 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, but fails to present a credible conservation strategy and overlooks other major developments on the horizon in this corner of the Mojave Desert. This Google Earth image shows the BLM's preferred layout of First Solar's Stateline solar power project, covering nearly 3.4 square miles.  The BLM estimates that the project could kill or displace 32 desert tortoises, although a higher estimate of 88 tortoises is also possible.  Rare plant species likely occurring on the site include Rusby's desert-mallow, Mojave milkweed, and the small-flowered androstephiu

Desert Paparazzi

A horned lizard mugs for a close-up photo.

BrightSource Energy Distorting Reality

BrightSource Energy recently submitted another petition to change conditions of certification set forth by the California Energy Commission (CEC)--which spell out what steps the company must take to  make up for ecological damage caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project.  This time BrightSource is seeking to take advantage of a desert habitat conservation program administered by the California Department of Fish and Game, probably because the company is unable to secure quality desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley area. In its petition to the CEC, BrightSource Energy argues that conserving habitat in the Ivanpah Valley is not worthwhile because human development has limited the value of the area to serve as desert tortoise connectivity.  BrightSource, however, has a record that disqualifies it from making authoritative statements on wildlife issues. Firstly, the company ignored wildlife biologists and built a 5.6 square mile industrial facility on prime desert tor

Prickly Poppy

A prickly poppy in bloom in the central Mojave Desert.  Plenty of spikes, but a beautiful sight, nonetheless.