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RECENT POSTS

Ask the Experts: 1 Million EVs by 2015?

The US already has more than a million hybrid-electric vehicles on the road. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Continuing an exercise I started in yesterday’s post, I’ve asked a few experts to weigh in on two national goals laid out by President Obama in this week’s State of the Union address. The experts seemed split on the viability of getting 80% of the nation’s electricity from “clean energy” by 2035. Today they address Obama’s call for one million electric vehicles “on the road” by 2015 (less than five years from now): Continue reading

Ask the Experts: Obama Energy Goals Realistic?

During his State of the Union speech last evening, President Obama articulated two national goals that jumped out at me: 80% of electricity from “clean” energy by 2035 and one million electric vehicles “on the road” by 2015 (just five years from now).

Keeping in mind that California’s goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020 is considered extremely ambitious, I put the question to a few experts in the renewable energy/alternative fuels field: Are these goals realistic? I’ll post their responses here as they come in. I’ve had to condense some of the replies for space considerations. Let’s take the 80% clean energy challenge first: Continue reading

CA Doubled Pace of Renewables Last Year

California Regulators say the state’s utilities about doubled the growth of new renewable energy sources last year. The California Public Utilities Commission says developers added 653 megawatts of capacity in 2010, nearly twice the pace of 2009.

Recently erected wind turbines at the Solano County Wind Resource Area. (Photo: Craig Miller)

For all that, utilities did not quite make the state-imposed requirement that they get 20% of their electrical generation from renewables by last year. That requirement was affirmed by the legislature. In September of last year, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger moved the goalposts to 33% by 2020. But that mandate is backed by an executive order, not by state law. Continue reading

Its First Renewables Goal Unmet, Can CA Meet The Next One?

California may not have met its goal of 20% renewable energy by 2010, but outgoing California Energy commissioner Jeffrey Byron says the state is close, and that California is on track to meet its its goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020.

“We didn’t get to the point where we’re generating 20% of our electricity by renewables, but I believe we do have, or we’re very close to having, all the contracts in place,” he said Thursday.

Byron was at Stanford University on Thursday, speaking at a workshop titled, “Grid Integration of Renewables.”
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Federal Gov’t Eyes CA for Solar Projects

The federal government is recommending 24 areas in six Southwestern US states it says are “best-suited” for large-scale solar projects, both economically and environmentally.   Four of these “Solar Energy Zones” are in California: two in San Bernadino County and one each in Imperial and Riverside Counties, and together they account for nearly half of the nearly 700,000 acres recommended by the Obama Adminstration.

“These are areas in those states which have been determined to have the highest solar potential and the fewest amount of environmental and resource conflicts,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

He said that because the recommended areas are likely to have fewer delays related to environmental issues, projects sited there are likely to have a faster permitting process.   The report and its recommendations, he said, will help speed up the implementation of renewable energy projects around the Southwest. (!–more–>

“It presents a common sense and flexible framework from which to grow our nation’s renewable energy economy,” he said.

While representatives from environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Center for Biological Diversity applauded the federal government for planning ahead for efforts to make the siting of solar projects more efficient, some voiced concerns about the specific sites named as Solar Energy Zones.

Ilene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity expressed concern that one of the areas designated in California, a swath of more than 200,000 acres called Riverside East, contains habitat of the endangered desert tortoise. Another zone she finds problematic is the Iron Mountain Zone, which Anderson says is too far from population centers, meaning that projects there could require the construction of additional transmission infrastructure.

Beyond the specific areas, however, Anderson said what concerns her to most is that the federal strategy leaves open the possibility for solar projects in sites outside the designated zones.

“My concern is that they’re still going to be entertaining applications anywhere on public lands, and that gets us back to the problem that we’re currently seeing which is these renewable energy projects spread willy-nilly across the desert,” she said.

You can see what the recommended sites actually look like with this interactive map that identifies the Solar Energy Zones and provides on-the-ground panoramic views of the sites.

California Leads Clean Energy Derby

Wind turbines in Solano County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

A new ranking of clean energy development in the US has California well out in front, with Oregon running a distant second.

Clean Edge, which describes itself as “the world’s first research and advisory firm devoted to the clean-tech sector,” has released its “first annual U.S. Clean Energy Leadership Index.” Massachusetts, Washington, and Colorado round out the top five. The firm, which has offices in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, says it used 80 indicators and 4,000 individual data points to calculate the rankings, including numbers of alternative-fuel vehicles and the flow of clean-tech venture capital, as well as the states’ portion of electricity generated from carbon-free sources.

As Todd Woody points out in his post for Reuters, the rankings may furrow brows in a couple of Midwestern states that have been showing some leadership in specific areas. Iowa, for example, is ahead of California in the wind energy race.

Also this week, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources said it had reached a settlement with regulators and environmental groups to replace more than 2,000 older wind turbines in California’s Altamont Pass, to reduce the number of bird fatalities. The new turbines, while much larger, spin at slower speeds and provide fewer places for birds to nest.

Parks Chief: No “Free Ride” for Renewables

Renewable energy developers will get no special treatment in the National Parks, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis at McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park (Photo: Craig Miller)

Jarvis made the comment yesterday while touring Glacier National Park in Montana, with members of the Society of Environmental Journalists. “Renewables do not get a free ride,” said Jarvis, when asked about how the parks would treat development of renewable energy sources on park property.

Using the backdrop of Glacier National Park, where the remaining 25 glaciers (out of an estimated 150) are expected to disappear by 2030, Jarvis called climate change the most serious threat ever posed to the integrity of the park system. Continue reading

San Benito PV Array Clears a Key Hurdle

Panoche Valley is located in San Benito County, between Hollister and Fresno. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Cupertino-based Solargen Energy cleared a major hurdle this week in its plan to build a nearly 400-megawatt solar farm in the Panoche Valley. Late Tuesday the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously  approved the company’s environmental impact report. The project has seen opposition from environmental groups and valley residents concerned about the impact of covering more than 4,700 acres with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The Board also approved the water supply assessment and canceled several Williamson Act contracts, both paving the way for the project to move forward.
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Offshore Wind’s Google Boost

Google makes a billion-dollar bet on offshore wind–but not on this coast.

When Google announced that it was taking a nearly 40% stake in a $5 billion underwater transmission line to serve offshore wind farms that haven’t been built, nobody even seemed to flinch. Such is the effect of having the Google imprimatur on renewable energy projects.

The Nysted wind farm, off the coast of Denmark. The US presently has no offshore wind generation.

According to reports, the cable would run for 350 miles, about 20 miles off the Atlantic coast, connecting yet-to-be-built wind energy turbines to the mainland and to each other. It would not connect the only offshore wind farm to so far win approval from the federal Department of the Interior, the long-contested Cape Wind project off Massachusetts. Continue reading

First Federal Approvals for Big Solar

UPDATE: Since this post was first published, the BLM has also given the nod to another major solar energy installation, the approximately 400-megawatt Ivanpah project, being developed in San Bernardino County by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy.

The federal Bureau of Land Management today issued its first approvals of major solar energy projects in California.

The Tessera project will use "SunCatchers" to concentrate solar power. (Image: Tessera Solar)

Tessera Energy’s 700-megawatt Ocotillo project, located in the Imperial Valley, about 100 miles east of San Diego, and a smaller photovoltaic (PV) project by San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., are both cleared to go forward.

The two projects set a precedent not just for California. On a call with reporters this morning, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called it a “historic day,” saying the two projects “bear the distinction of being the first large-scale solar energy projects ever approved for construction on our nation’s public lands.” Continue reading