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California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul

Carolyn Lochhead
Updated 2:40 pm, Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Farmer Brian Brown harvests dates in the Silurian Valley, which he says is the wrong site for a solar
farm. Photo: Ethan Miller
(09-10) 14:39 PDT WASHINGTON --
With billions of dollars in federal stimulus
money in hand, the Obama administration set
out five years ago on a grand experiment in
the California desert.
The goal: Open public lands to renewable-
energy development to wean the nation from
fossil fuels.
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Page 1 of 5 California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul - SFGate
20 2
Mohave Desert Wildlife
The results haven't been pretty, a fact the
administration has tacitly acknowledged by
devising a new plan, expected to be released
this month, to find better places to put
industrial-scale solar farms in the
California desert.
Quoting songwriter Joni Mitchell in a speech
describing the new approach, Interior
Secretary Sally Jewell said, "You don't know
what you've got till it's gone."
The solar plants were rushed through the
environmental approval process. Miles of
unspoiled desert lands were scraped and
bulldozed to make way for sprawling arrays of
solar panels. Desert tortoises required mass
relocation, and kit fox burrows were
destroyed. Surprise troves of American Indian
artifacts found in the Mojave Desert were
moved to a San Diego warehouse, where they remain.
And once it was built, the largest solar plant of its kind in the world - the Ivanpah
installation in the Mojave - began igniting birds and monarch butterflies that fly through
intensely concentrated, reflected sunbeams aimed at 40-story "power towers," according
to a confidential report by federal wildlife officials.
Owned by BrightSource of Oakland, with investment partners Google of Mountain View
and NRG Energy of Houston, the 5.4-square-mile, $2.2 billion facility was built with a $1.6
billion federal loan and went online last fall.
Making fixes
BrightSource underestimated how much natural gas it would need to run the Ivanpah
plant when the sun doesn't shine. And scientists now say desert soils contain vast stores of
carbon that are unleashed by construction of solar facilities.
Research at UC Riverside's Center for Conservation Biology indicates that carbon-dioxide-
emissions savings from many solar plants "will be compromised, or even negated, by the
loss of stores of inorganic and organic carbon sequestered by desert native ecosystems."
Within the next few weeks, state and federal agencies plan to release the mammoth Desert
Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, nearly five years in the making, that many hope will
correct mistakes made when stimulus dollars and California's quest to slash carbon
emissions set off a solar land rush in the Mojave.
The plan will cover 22.5 million acres of private and public land in California.
"I think of Glen Canyon, and the regret that people feel about allowing that dam to be
built," said David Lamfrom of the National Parks Conservation Association, referring to
the Arizona dam that turned nearly 200 miles of the Colorado River into a reservoir.
"People say, 'If only I were there,' " Lamfrom said. "Well, 'there' is now, and the place is
the California desert."
Jewell promises that the new plan will provide "landscape-level" protection of open
spaces, wildlife corridors and habitat while meeting President Obama's goal of having
20,000 megawatts of renewable energy produced on public land.
"This is a grand experiment," said Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large Scale
Solar Association, which represents utility-scale solar plants. "Nobody has ever tried to do
this before."
More plants planned
Much is at stake. Several projects are proposed near the three big national parks of the
California desert: a 23-square-mile wind and solar farm in the Silurian Valley near Death
Valley; a 3,000-acre solar project at Soda Mountain near the Mojave National Preserve
that would straddle a bighorn sheep corridor; and another project by BrightSource at
Palen, near Joshua Tree National Park, that would be a bigger version of Ivanpah and be
located in a bird migratory path.
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17 hours ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
MichaelEGordon Rank 0
I've been to many of the solar/wind public meetings and the Sierra Club has simply been absent
from this fight. It's too late for them to save face and rescue their reputation (those concerned with
avian mortality at Ivanpah were regarded as "hysterical enviros" by Sierra magazine's Paul
Rauber). Dog bless David Lamfrom of NPCA, Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch, and
Janine Blaeloch at Western Lands Project for their fight against this industrialized
corporate/government heist of public... more more
1 day ago (edited) 1 Like Like Reply Share
jymdyer Rank 3395
The Sierra Club did not in fact oppose megasolar until it was too late to do anything about it.
They even had a talking point about not saying "no" all the time (which was disingenuous, they
regularly approve awful stuff). In general, local folks who understand desert ecosystems opposed
the project but nationwide groups gave it a nod, including some who are otherwise far more
principled than the Sierra Club and really should have known better.
wildbill2u Rank 30224
Didn't the solar plant built in Spain on the same idea (a mirror array with center tower
collector/generator] eventually get closed because it couldn't compete without continuing massive
government subsidies?
I don't recall if they were zapping birds and insects or ruining the topographic ecology of the area,
but I could overlook some of that if we could get a serious breakthrough in cheap renewable
I'd like to see solar become a possible energy source, but so far the technology... more more
Page 3 of 5 California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul - SFGate
Inside SFGate Displaying 1-4 of 12
2 days ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
This post has been removed by the author.
3 days ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
LongerView Rank 1516
Odd that posts disappear quickly under the guise of "This post has been removed by the author."
George Orwell would have been impressed.
This post has been removed by the author.
3 days ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
KurtisEngle Rank 15619
Let's visualize a million carports with photovoltaic roofing. That amounts to a peak 5 Gigawatts
with no footprint just a few feet from a million electric cars.
Next thought. Are any people or animals using the land between the East and Westbound lanes of
Interstate 10? That land adds up to 20 acres per mile.
Now. Why can't we do this right?
1 day ago 1 Like Like Reply Share
jymdyer Rank 3395
@KurtisEngle - Want to do this right? If we're visualizing an infrastructure overhaul,
replace cars and highways with something more sane. Devoting renewable
resources on a fundamentally wasteful system is not the way to go.
4 days ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
tsuhsf Rank 24947
Wind and Solar are not clean or carbon free; require burning of fossil fuel from cradle to grave; do
not lower CO2 emissions; are high price which whacks the poor; and when
the Sun is not Shining require a fossil fuel back up or high cost array of toxic batteries for backup
3 days ago 0 Likes Like Reply Share
KurtisEngle Rank 15619
Not everyone agrees with your math.
I didn't have to go far to find those links. You would not have either. The difference
seems to be what each of us was looking for.
Turning to your point about costs, I note they are low and dropping. more more
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
Page 4 of 5 California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul - SFGate
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Page 5 of 5 California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul - SFGate