Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making solar work

With the possible exception of wind sites in North Dakota, it is almost impossible to imagine any place on earth that has fewer residents to object to the building of solar infrastructure than a desert.  And yet, try building some large solar collectors in southern California and you get NIMBYs—even if they have to drive several hours to get to the neighborhood in question.

Hands down, the hardest part about the potential development for renewables is that there is hardly any place left on earth where there are so few people and so little existing infrastructure to displace that large-scale projects are hassle-free.  Just look at the headline for this article.
Sacrificing the desert to save the Earth
Environmentalists are torn over the high cost of breaking reliance on fossil fuels. Public comment has been sought, but insiders are calling the shots.
By Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times

February 5, 2012

Reporting from Ivanpah Valley, Calif.— Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.

Clustered nearby are hangar-sized assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 acres of public land. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California's eastern border.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.

Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California's boisterous environmental community.

The public got its chance to comment at scores of open houses, but the real political horse trading took place in meetings involving solar developers, federal regulators and leaders of some of the nation's top environmental organizations.

Away from public scrutiny, they crafted a united front in favor of utility-scale solar development, often making difficult compromises.

"I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection," said Johanna Wald, a veteran environmental attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It's not an accommodation; it's a change I had to make to respond to climate." more

1 comment:

  1. It is frustrating to see these Eco-activists have this 100% purist stance. They will never achieve pure power in our lifetime, especially if they stop any green energy project that isn't 100% pure from day one.

    It is impossible to meet that criteria, so what ends up happening is that the various energy companies and PUCs extend the fossil fuel energy market to meet customer needs and the green energy stalls further.

    A quick story--last summer I was caught in a thread with one of these local eco-purists who was badmouthing Xcel Energy over their lack of green energy action, and I asked him if he had signed up for windsource (because ironically my Xcel bill had arrived with an insert mentioning it) for his home and office--
    --and he hadn't. In fact it seemed like Windsource was a new idea to him although it has been around for years. So I tried to explain to him--this is how Xcel gauges green energy demand, by creating this program and marketing it hard with every customer in the state--AND WHEN HE IGNORES IT, then you get fossil fuel instead of green.

    Yes, Xcel still moves green, but slower, because here is their direct program and it is met with 90% apathy or fear over paying a few bucks more per month for energy. And here is the so-called green energy expert missing the was a headshaking moment.