renewable energy

RECENT POSTS

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.
Continue reading

California: The “Solar Saudi Arabia”

At solar-thermal plants, mirrors concentrate solar energy on a central tower, where steam is generated to run turbines. (Image: BrightSource Energy)

Prepare for a solar building boom in the deserts of Southern California. After spending years in the environmental review process and clearing other bureaucratic hurdles, approvals for clean energy producers are picking up steam.

State regulators have now given the green light to four major solar power projects in as many weeks. The most recent was on Wednesday, when the California Energy Commission gave the nod to a 370-megawatt solar-thermal array known as the Ivanpah project (the CEC does not have authority over photovoltaic or “PV” solar arrays). Developed by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy and built by Bechtel Corp., it will consume more than 3,500 acres near the California-Nevada border, in the northern Mojave Desert. Continue reading

California Fails to Pass Renewable Energy Bill

California wrestles with its clean energy goals. (Photo: Lauren Sommer)

It came down to the final minutes before midnight last night for SB 722, the bill that would make law California’s 33% renewable energy goal by 2020. But as the bill’s author State Senator Joe Simitian says, “The clock just ran out. It’s as simple and painful as that.” Continue reading

Cow Power Not Cutting It

Cows at Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, California. (Photo: Sheraz Sadiq)

Last year, as part of a radio series on methane, I drove down to visit John Fiscalini, who was building a huge methane “digester” to convert his cows’ “byproducts” into clean energy, and reduce the carbon footprint of his sizable dairy farm and cheese factory outside Modesto.  After millions of dollars in design and construction costs, Fiscalini was fed up with state air and water regulators, who he felt were pulling him in different directions. A year later, have things improved? Not so much, as Quest’s Lauren Sommer found out, when she returned to the San Joaquin Valley for an update. — Craig Miller

Three years ago, KQED’s QUEST visited a Central Valley dairy that was taking an innovative approach to its waste problem. Instead of collecting thousands of pounds of cow manure in open holding ponds, Joseph Gallo Farms uses it in a renewable energy technology known as a methane digester. Continue reading

Climate News Roundup

A few items in the climate news that caught our eyes this week…

1. CEC approves 250-megawatt solar thermal project in Kern County
The California Energy Commission approved the Beacon Solar Energy project on Wednesday. It’s the first time in 20 years that state energy regulators have approved construction on a solar thermal farm, the Los Angeles Times reports.

2. Geoengineering won’t curb sea-level rise, study finds
A new report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that geoengineering strategies to combat global warming by blocking the sun’s radiation would not have much of an impact on rising sea levels, unless the efforts are extremely aggressive. (Read more at Nature.com)

3. Earth’s plant growth fell due to climate change, says NASA
After 20 years of increasing growth under warming temperatures, the Earth’s vegetation   saw a slight decrease over the last decade, according to a new NASA analysis.  Scientists reported they were surprised to find that the negative effects of regional droughts outweighed the positive influence of a longer growing season.

4. Another hurdle cleared for the world’s largest solar farm
Federal regulators are one step closer to approving plans for the 1,000 megawatt plant proposed by Oakland-based company Solar Millennium LLC.  The project would be located across more than 7,000 acres in Riverside County. (Read more at The New York Times.)

Wind Picks Up Nationally, California Lags

A cluster of wind turbines in Tehachapi Pass marks California's early commitment to wind energy. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Wind power generators added nearly 40% to their total capacity in the US last year, as several states blew past California, according to a new report from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. According to the tally, four states now generate more than 10% of their total electricity (excluding exports) from wind.

Texas is the undisputed leader in the wind race, installing nearly 2,300 megawatts of capacity last year alone. Other Midwestern states such as Indiana, Iowa, the Dakotas and Minnesota have also been aggressive installers of wind farms. Continue reading

Energy Storage: The Holy Grail

A 2 MW battery at the AES Huntington Beach power plant. (Photo: Lauren Sommer)

Energy storage is something we’ve come to take for granted in everyday life. Our cell phones, iPods, cars and computers all depend on batteries. But storing large amounts of energy for the electric grid is another matter entirely. It’s a technical challenge that has yet to be met–but will need to be for the coming age of renewable energy.

California’s grid is designed to deliver electricity on a real-time basis. Every four seconds, the grid operators at the California Independent System Operator (ISO) have to ensure that the energy supply meets the demand in the state, something that’s known as “balancing” the grid (you can see today’s electricity forecast on the ISO site). As a result, they coordinate the one piece of the system that they have control over: the power plants. Continue reading

California’s Future Energy Mix

The Quest/Climate Watch series “33×20: California’s Clean Power Countdown” continues on Monday, with the first of two parts on one company’s attempt to build one of the nation’s largest PV solar arrays in San Benito County.

(Image: Solargen Energy)

(Image: Solargen Energy)

With its ambitious 33%-by-2020 renewable energy goal, California will be looking for renewable megawatts from all corners of the state. While the state may hit 18-19% by the end of this year, reaching 33% will require approximately a doubling of renewable power, since the state’s energy appetite will continue to grow in the meantime.

So, where will the energy come from? According to the California Public Utilities Commission, wind and solar will have to carry much of the “load.” Check out the CPUC projections in the charts below.

Series Explores 33×20 Renewable Energy Goal

California has set some ambitious targets for ramping up renewable energy sources. Some say too ambitious. Utilities won’t make the first milepost of 20% renewable power by this year, and many are skeptical that the longer-term goal of 33% by 2020 is doable, either, the executive order signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008 notwithstanding.

A thermal-solar array of the type planned for southern California. Photo: Brightsource Energy

A thermal solar array of the type planned for southern California. Photo: BrightSource Energy

A major hurdle is the permitting process for large “utility-scale” solar and wind installations, described by the Governor’s own senior advisor as “tortuous.” In the months ahead, we’ll take you through some of the obstacle course in a multimedia series called “33 x 20: California’s Clean Power Countdown.” A collaboration of Climate Watch and Quest, KQED’s science and environmental initiative, the series of radio reports and web features explores the promise and pitfalls of the state’s 33 x 20 plan.

The series begins Monday with Lauren Sommer’s review of California’s clean power legacy and an assessment of the present push. Future reports will look at a solar siting case study in central California, as well as prospects for major development of wind and geothermal sources. California currently leads the nation in solar generation but trails Texas and Iowa in the race for wind power. See Lauren’s interactive map for an overview of how California stacks up against other states in its ambitions toward renewable energy.

Future reports will examine the potential impact of large-scale power generation on deserts and tribal lands and the progress toward what some consider the “holy grail” of energy technology; large-scale storage of electricity. In June, Quest Senior Editor Andrea Kissack and I will team up for a kind of case study in one company’s ambitions; the 4,700-acre photovoltaic array planned by Solargen Energy for Panoche Valley in San Benito County.

Northern California listeners can hear the radio series as part of KQED’s Quest radio service (airs Mondays during NPR’s Morning Edition on KQED and KQEI in Sacramento) or statewide on The California Report. You can follow the entire series and see the related web features as they appear on our “33 x 20″ series page.