solar

RECENT POSTS

Protesters Shell Mojave Solar Plant

Oakland’s BrightSource Energy and Environmentalists throw down over a threatened tortoise

What some have billed as the world’s largest solar project in the Mojave came under fire again today. This time a baby desert tortoise led the charge with a cohort of environmentalists. While the tortoise provided a slow-motion picket around downtown Oakland, protestors lined up in front of BrightSource Energy’s corporate headquarters, determined to preserve the Mojave desert and keep solar projects local.

A baby desert tortoise stakes out a position outside BrightSource Energy headquarters in Oakland. (Photo: Chris Penalosa)

At risk of habitat loss from the project, the tortoise is becoming the iconic image for preservation of the Mojave. The Bureau of Land Management put the brakes on two-thirds of the Ivanpah solar farm when field biologists found more tortoises than initially expected. Tortoises found on site are being relocated and fenced off, preventing their gradual return. Continue reading

Speed Bump for Big SoCal Solar Project

It had been a good month for BrightSource Energy, the Oakland-based company that’s building the massive Ivanpah solar farm in the Mojave Desert.

Google announced it would invest $168 million in the project. The Department of Energy announced $1.6 billion loan guarantee. And on Friday, the company announced it plans to go public with a $250 million initial public offering. But a recurring issue has popped up: the desert tortoise.

A Mojave desert tortoise. (Image: USGS)

“It’s an endangered species. No project that is sited out there in within their habitat can negatively impact the population,” says Erin Curtis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. As anyone following the battles over solar farms knows, prime desert tortoise habitat also happens to be prime solar territory and has been targeted by a number of proposed solar farms.

BrightSource Energy agreed to mitigate the impacts their solar farm would have on the tortoises by capturing and relocating them to new habitat. Fences are being constructed to prevent the tortoises from returning. Continue reading

Report: Solar Panels Boost Home Prices

Photo: Shuka Kalantari

A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab could help California’s homeowners decide whether or not to “go solar.” Researchers found that on average, homeowners who recently installed solar photovoltaic (PV) panels recouped most or all of their investment when they sold their homes.

“A house that has a PV system compared to a house that doesn’t have a PV system is expected to sell for more,” said Ben Hoen, the lead researcher on the study and a principal research associate at Berkeley Lab. “This is for systems that are relatively new – between 1.5 to 2.5 years old.”
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Brown, Chu Tout New Renewables Law

(Photo: Lorie Shelley, CA. State Senate Photographer)

California’s utilities now have their marching orders: to provide one third of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Now that the “33-by-20″ target is a mandate backed by state law, supporters say it will lure more renewable energy investments to California. There’s evidence that it already is.

Calling it a “breakthrough,” Governor Brown signed the bill into law at the dedication of a new SunPower Corp. manufacturing plant in Milpitas, near San Jose. And he laid down a challenge:

“Last year six thousand megawatts of solar installations were produced by China and one thousand by the United States. Now, are we up for changing that? I think we are.” Continue reading

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.

Climate News Roundup

Geoengineering: Use it or Lose it?

Just as delegates from 193 nations agreed to a voluntary moratorium on geoengineering research last week at the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, the US House Science and Technology Committee issued a report outlining how federal geoengineering research could be pursued in the United States. The international agreement to ban the research does not apply to the US, which has not ratified the CBD. (More from The Washington Post and Climate Central.) Continue reading

Climate News that Went By in a Blur

Some of the week’s energy, climate, and emissions developments in California, that may have been overshadowed by other news:

Largest Solar-Thermal Project Breaks Ground
Officials broke ground on the first large-scale solar-thermal plant to be built in the United States in 20 years. BrightSource Energy says its $2 billion, 10,000-MW Ivanpah project, located in the Mojave Desert, will be the largest solar thermal project in the world.  (More from KQED’s The California Report and The New York Times)

Prop. 23 Funding
Opponents of Proposition 23 have contributed three times as much money to the campaign as those in favor of the measure that would suspend California’s climate change legislation.  As of October 29, the “No” campaign had raised more than $30 million, while the “Yes” campaign had raised just over $10 million, mostly from out-of-state oil refiners Valero and Tesoro.  (More from maplight.org, and to see where across the US the money is coming from, check out Climate Watch‘s interactive map that tracks the major funders.) 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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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

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.)