Monday, February 06, 2012

Rush to build solar farms in West has left environmental concerns of some in the dust

Photo by Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times: Ivanpah solar plant in Mojave Desert
Industrial-scale solar energy development is "well underway" in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, bolstered by the federal government giving the industry 21 million acres of public land on which to build, reports Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times. Hundreds of square miles of desert will be permanently disturbed, even if just a few solar farms are completed, and this has riled those who thought solar development was a non-harmful alternative to burning fossil fuels. Cart reports the Mojave Desert "is about to take one for the team" in the fight against climate change.

"For decades, America's Western deserts have been dusty storehouses for government scrap, a lode for minerals, a staging ground for tanks and military maneuvers," Cart writes, but the newest onslaught of solar development is creating a sense of urgency, with BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar plant in California standing as "an exclamation point in the desert." The plant could generate enough energy to power 140,000 homes during peak hours. Solar is expensive, though, costing three times more than coal or natural gas, so consumers pay 50 percent more for it, according to the California Public Utitlities Commission. The Obama administration has offered $45 billion in tax credits to solar companies, creating a land rush for public desert land.

Bureau of Land Management biologist Larry LaPre said some aspects of BrightSource's project were "carefully considered and painstakingly done," but others are "complete nonsense." Jeffrey Lovich, who studies desert tortoises for the U.S. Geological Survey, said it's unknown what will happen to wildlife when a solar farm is built. (Photo: Desert tortoises have been rounded up and placed in pens near the plant, pending relocation.)

Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council "have been largely mute" because they helped with development plans. Cart reports 24 environmental groups signed statements supporting solar developers, agreeing with federal officials and solar companies that the urgency of climate change has "forced difficult trade-offs." The National Park Service, Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration have voiced concern, though, for various reasons relevant to each agency. (Read more)


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it make more sense to put solar panels on existing structures? Companies could be formed to install, maintain and upgrade them as most of us don't want to fool with electricity, inverters and the like. That wouldn't disturb anything but rooftops.

Al Cross said...

The installation pictures requires a large tract because it will use 173,000 mirrors to focus sunlight on a central tower.