Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Not Solar Power in the Desert? Here's Why

We’ve all grown up in love with the idea of renewable energy helping to reduce our negative impact on the planet. So now that renewable energy projects are being proposed in high numbers out in the desert, many people wonder what all the controversy is about. After all, the desert is where the sun shines brightest. So why are the environmentalists still not happy?

Recent controversy over the location of renewable energy projects in the desert includes lawsuits filed against Tessera/NTR’s Imperial Valley Solar Project by the Quechuan Tribe and a separate suit against the Imperial Valley project and five others by La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, Californians for Renewable Energy and six individual Native American plaintiffs. These lawsuits come just as the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is contemplating the Eurus solar facility in Borrego Springs, which would require transmission through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission are also proposing a wind energy project abutting the park.

Why the controversy? What is not to love about renewable energy? After all, California utilities are under mandate to use larger proportions of renewables in the energy they distribute in order to move away from coal- and oil-fired plants that produce greenhouse gases. But the rub is the location.

Many renewable energy projects are being proposed for far-flung and pristine desert areas, requiring devastation of undisturbed plant and animal habitats, and destructive and inefficient transmission lines to bring the electricity back to the urban areas.

Take, for example, the proposed Eurus project on undisturbed land in the community of Borrego Springs. Any electricity generated there needs to be transmitted through the park in order to reach the San Diego area. The Eurus project alone would take up all the existing capacity on the transmission lines. Yet the county has active applications for more generation projects within Borrego Springs. The transmission lines for all these projects will have to go through the park, just like the recently defeated proposed Sunrise Powerlink northern route project. It appears that this battle will have to be fought all over again.

In a separate proposed project, BLM’s Tule Wind Energy project, wind turbines would loom over Anza-Borrego’s scenic McCain Valley, destroying its viewshed. In addition to threats to endangered species, such as the Peninsular Bighorn sheep, the Tule Wind Energy project poses a threat to birds, such as the Golden Eagle, and also to bats.

Scientists are discovering that desert soils are actually great storehouses of carbon, a contributor to greenhouse gases associated with global climate change. New evidence by UC Riverside professor Michael Allen suggests that the destruction to desert soils caused by renewable projects, and the subsequent release into the air of carbon, may actually increase greenhouse gases more than the renewable facilities would decrease them.

The argument that solar energy projects should be sited in the desert where there is more sun does not hold water. Electrical transmission of power from the distant desert to the urban areas is a highly inefficient process. Ten to 15 percent of the electricity will be lost, offsetting any slight increase in solar power from the desert sun over San Diego sun.

The San Diego region can be the leader in renewable energy, but renewable facilities should be sited where the electricity is needed. There is no need to have a huge environmentally destructive downside to renewable energy. There is no need to sully our wonderful shared dream of green power.

Our local cities, school districts and water districts are taking the lead by installing photovoltaic panels on rooftops and over parking lots. We urge the County of San Diego and the BLM to follow suit. Imagine the county’s buildings and parking lots covered in photovoltaic panels that not only generate clean energy but shade county facilities as well, reducing county operating costs. Imagine all our large urban facilities covered with solar panels, leaving the wilderness intact and our dream of a green future alive.



Clean Legacy said...

All Hail Maureen!!

I couldn’t agree more! It is inspiring and reinvigorating to see this in print! Thank you and with your permission I would like to add your article to my promotion package, for we at Clean Legacy for many years now have been warning others of exactly that which you speak of! To that end we have been developing and are near patenting what we believe could potentially become one of the world’s most eco sustainable renewable energy devices. As you can imagine, this project, being a hybrid of wind, concentrated photovoltaic and solar thermal and pushing the technology into new areas has already generated great interest and excitement while being ignored at the same time by many we have tried to connect with. It seems most are only interested in feeding the grid not satisfying the consumer and taking care of the planet. Our renewable energy innovations relieve consumers from the grid and lets them take control of their own energy needs and in many places now even profit from doing so.

Sincerest Thanks! Keep publishing, some of us are listening!


Former Chairman said...

the problem with the approach given in this article is that it becomes an infinite loop: 1) we can't build in deserts. Then we try to build significant facilities (wind or solar) in suburbs, and we find more problems with those neighbors, so someone else writes 2) we can't build in suburbs. Then we try 3) cities (too crowded), 4) mountains (birds! bats! views!). Finally, we go 5) offshore for wind, as England has done, driven by their environmentalists.

And in the US, you get Cape Wind, now entering its 10th year of wrangling.

WE HAVE TO PUT GENERATION FACILITIES SOMEWHERE! It is clearly not sufficient to rely on residential rooftops. We need utility-scale development, and that means transmission lines and all the rest. Otherwise, we go banana - BUILD

Clyde said...


Well what is wrong is leasing roof top of buildings like Cal Edison has done for 250 MW of power. There are lots of small land plots and rooftops to make 500 MW system. It better for the environment, better for the transmission lines and for everyone concern. So the generation is spread over 100 sq miles, who cares, if treat like one power plant with multiple entries and exits.

I think that distributed power sources make a better solution for solar than wind.

Wind developers may want to rethink their idea about wind resources because as the water vapor increases due to global warming ( you measure that in water vapor IR channel in the satellite) may cause the jet streams to slow down decreasing the differences in pressures, cause a decrease in wind resources. Air mass movement is something Skyvolts has leading edge on this technology and one should model this activity to make certain that future wind resource are going to be available.


Former Chairman said...

Please let's be realistic: if distributed generation people continue to fight utility-scale wind and solar, the winner will not be anyone but the FOSSIL FUEL people.

We need utility-scale wind and solar, not just rooftops. It's a matter of math and physics and the realities of loads and grids and modern society.

Even a rosy picture of DG might have it at 10% of our needs by 2030 or something. WE need to move faster or we'll be suffering greatly at the hands of climate change.

Every day you stop a wind or solar plant from being built, it's one more day we live with COAL.

Please keep this in mind.