Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects. Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red ; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow ; and still pending environmental review and approval in Green .  All told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could

Desert Kit Fox Project

I have never seen a kit fox in person, but I almost certain a desert kit fox has seen me.  I have spent enough time in its habitat that they have probably stalked my camp sites.   This species - like many others in the desert - face the threat of climate change, habitat loss to industrial energy development, and urban sprawl.  More recently, kit foxes on the site of NextEra's Genesis Solar power project have died from a canine distemper outbreak possibly caused when the company tried to harass them from their dens. Luckily some students from Duke University are starting a research project to better understand the kit fox's habitat preference, and how human disturbances, landscape vegetation, and prey species affect the animals.   Chris Clarke held an informative Google Hangout chat with them where they explain the tools they'll be using to advance their research, but they will need your help. In order to survey more than 200 square miles of kit fox habitat, they'l

Oil Pipeline Proposed for Joshua Tree Area

Questar, a natural gas-focused company with pipelines throughout western states, is evaluating options for a crude oil pipeline through the California desert to refineries in Long Beach, California.  The company would build up to 120 miles of new 16-inch pipeline between Essex and Whitewater, California to connect portions of the existing Questar Southern Trails pipeline, which currently carries natural gas from New Mexico to Essex for California utilities.   The new 120 mile portion would  be routed east of Joshua Tree National Park through Desert Center, or west of the National Park through the Morongo Basin. The BLM has not yet begun environmental review of the Questar project, so stay tuned. This map from Questar shows the existing pipeline in solid blue - much of it currently carrying natural gas from New Mexico to Essex.  The dotted lines show two potential routes for new pipeline to connect the existing pipelines, which would then carry crude oil. The Questar pipeline

NRG Solar Engages in Cover-Up

NRG Solar's Vice President recently expressed to CBS just how ill-informed he is about desert ecology.  In a story about the Ivanpah Solar project , Mr. Randall Hickok described the 5.6 square mile Ivanpah project - which NRG invested in along with BrightSource Energy - as "environmentally benign" and sited on "degraded land" that is "less prone to have wildlife."  Really?  Is that why he had to hire over 80 biologists to displace dozens of endangered species?  Ivanpah Valley hosts an above-averages species richness, serves as a critical habitat linkage for the desert tortoises , hosts pockets of rare plants, and provides a foraging area for desert bighorn sheep and golden eagles. I'm sorry Mr. Hickok didn't bother to read the environmental impact statement for the project.  I would much rather NRG invest in distributed generation and projects on already-disturbed lands, but now I'm not sure they know the difference.  Luckily CBS also in

More Destruction Looms Over Ivanpah

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working on the final environmental impact statements for two more solar projects in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley, which straddles the California and Nevada border, and the documents are expected to be released this summer.  BrightSource Energy 's destructive Ivanpah Solar project is nearing completion there, but First Solar's proposed Stateline and Silver State South solar projects would destroy another eight square miles of intact desert ecosystem, with the most appalling destruction to occur at the 4.8 square mile Silver State South solar site.  I hope at least one of the projects will canceled altogether or at least substantially trimmed down.  First Solar's reputation as a steward of the environment is at stake, and the company has no reason to ignore Fish and Wildlife Service concerns; the company has successfully built large projects on already-disturbed lands with minimized environmental impacts.  These Ivanpah projects

Solar University

I was reading about NRG Energy, whose CEO has spoken enthusiastically about the potential of distributed generation, and came across a fairly impressive array of solar on rooftops and over parking lots that the company has installed. Although I disagree with the company's investment in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System , the distributed generation project at Arizona State University is proof of the clean energy we can generate in our cities.  ASU's facilities boast over 20 megawatts of solar panels, and they plan to expand to 25 megawatts.  You can even monitor real time generation statistics at the campus' website . [click on image to expand] The orange borders highlight buildings with rooftop solar. Other buildings with rooftop solar are in the area, but the image would have less detail if I zoomed out enough to capture  them.  Good job, ASU! Back in my own hometown of Victorville, Victor Valley College recently received an award for its own solar ins

How To Avoid An Ecological Disaster While Solving Another

President Obama announced today his administration's Climate Action Plan, which includes a long overdue directive to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, calls for improving vehicle fuel economy standards,  and raising the bar for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.   All of these are urgent and smart ways to fix our destructive energy paradigm.  In a surprisingly positive shift,  the President also signaled that he may not approve the Keystone oil pipeline if it results in a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the President also outlined plans for continued utility-scale renewable energy expansion; these plans must be reconciled with his administration's unfortunately overlooked effort to protect wildlands and wildlife.   The Climate Action Plan only vaguely refers to the fairly comprehensive National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy released