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If the Judge's ruling blocking the construction of the Sunrise Powerlink through the Southern Californian desert, due to possible environmental damage, is upheld, it could doom the second phase of a massive 850 MW solar project. The project is among the first Stirling engine-driven solar farms, as pictured here.  (Source: Sterling Energy Systems)
The effort to tap solar energy in California's desert is grinding to a halt

California has long led the nation's solar efforts.  However, it is facing increasing legal pressure as the state's environmentalists clash over whether installing solar power is worth possible environmental damage.

The conflict was brought into sharp focus when activist judge Jean Vieth, an administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission, struck down plans to build a high power transmission line from the remote Californian desert, effectively dooming the massive solar initiatives set to be built in the desert.

The desert project was a joint initiative by San Diego Gas & Electric and Phoenix-based Stirling Energy Systems signed in 2005.  It aimed to install 900 MW of Stirling solar power in uninhabited Southern Californian desert wasteland.  Stirling power is a method of concentrating sunlight with mirrors onto water fueling a Stirling engine, and is thought to possibly yield higher efficiencies than photovoltaic cells.  The plant would feature 34,000 dishes, each generating 25 kW.

Central to the plan was the construction of a suitable power transmission line.  SDG&E had partnered with Sterling Energy Systems to create the Sunrise Powerlink a $1.3B USD power line to bring the solar power to Californian cities.

The project was struck down by Judge Vieth, who argues that its 150-foot-high transmission towers, which would cut through Anza-Borrego State Park, could be environmentally damaging.  The park features many protective species and Judge Vieth calls the power lines impact "frightening".

The project has generated an 11,000-page environmental impact report, which is so long that few have taken the time to read it all.  Judge Vieth's decision alone was 265 pages.  In it she wrote, "The potentially high economic costs to ratepayers and the potential implications for our [greenhouse gas] policy objectives do not justify the severe environmental damage that any of the transmission proposals would cause."

The fight is far from over, though.  The public utilities commission meets in December to vote on whether to accept the Judge's ruling.  A commissioner assigned to review the case created an alternative, which they are also considering.  The alternative would be to move the route of the transmission line slightly, increasing costs, but potentially having less environmental impact.

Opponents of the project have argued that San Diego, the target for most of the generated power, already has enough rooftop space for urban installation of an equivalent solar installation.  The Judge has stated that she prefers this alternative.

COO Bruce Osborn previously stated to The Green Wombat, an online publication, that even if the Sunrise Powerlink was killed, there was still enough capacity to carry the 300 MW from the first phase of the project.  However, this will likely place more stress on California's already badly aging power grid.  Stirling still has its 20-year contract to supply up to 850 megawatts of electricity to utility Southern California Edison, a deal entirely unrelated, to fall back upon.

The case, while far from finished, illustrates an upcoming battle to be waged among once-allies.  As our nation embraces alternative energy, part of President-elect Barack Obama's ambitious national initiative, there will likely be increasing clashes between environmentalists supporting alternative energy installation, and those opposing it for possible environmental damage.



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RE: ...and it starts
By nosfe on 11/6/2008 11:29:30 AM , Rating: 1
last i checked nuclear power plants need a ton of water for cooling so yes, a desert is the perfect place for nuclear power plants, why people are still building them only near big rivers is a big mystery to me....


RE: ...and it starts
By dever on 11/6/2008 12:17:21 PM , Rating: 2
You're right, San Diego is no where near water.


RE: ...and it starts
By TomCorelis on 11/8/2008 4:28:52 PM , Rating: 2
San Onofre Nuclear Station, anyone?


RE: ...and it starts
By teldar on 11/6/2008 1:43:21 PM , Rating: 5
I don't believe his post ever implied that the nuclear plan would go in the desert. That was your assumption based on his statement about the solar power installation in the desert.
Maybe you should read it again.


RE: ...and it starts
By FITCamaro on 11/6/2008 2:55:36 PM , Rating: 2
Last I checked they don't. There are reactor designs that don't need a large water source. Palo Verde uses waste water for cooling.


RE: ...and it starts
By nosfe on 11/7/2008 3:05:58 AM , Rating: 3
well i'm sure a desert produces tons of waste water; why are you nitpicking on details?


RE: ...and it starts
By Spuke on 11/7/2008 3:04:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
well i'm sure a desert produces tons of waste water; why are you nitpicking on details?
Why are YOU nitpicking on details? LOL!


RE: ...and it starts
By randomly on 11/8/2008 11:46:53 AM , Rating: 2
That's a deceptive statement. Palo Verde does use a lot of water, 20 Billion gallons a year. I would say that qualifies as a large water source.

It's the only reactor in the world that uses wastewater for cooling. Fortunately it's located near the 5th largest city in the US so there is enough waste water from 5 million people to do the job.

Nuclear reactors DO need a large water source of some kind. Period.


RE: ...and it starts
By Laereom on 11/8/2008 12:45:20 PM , Rating: 3
Fair enough. That doesn't mean they're still not the best option available, especially if you build them near large cities where they can use waste water. I somehow suspect salt water isn't an option, or it probably would've been mentioned by now. Then again, perhaps the massive heat from the nuclear reactor can be used to create a dual function desal plant and help keep our water supply up to demand without dramatically raising prices.

Then again, we aren't exactly industry insiders, so this is all pointless energy penis waving.


RE: ...and it starts
By TheSpaniard on 11/24/2008 8:05:07 AM , Rating: 2
I know this is a late response but....

ALL nuclear facilities in Florida were required to be capable of being "closed loop" ie huge cooling towers so they did not need fresh water

that was later scrubbed when some of the systems went closed loop and it caused the manatee population to dip because the water got too cold and they had forgotten what it meant to be a migratory species


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