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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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What is wrong with you people?
By NicePants42 on 11/6/2008 12:15:10 PM , Rating: 0
Did anyone read the article?
an administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission, struck down plans to build a high power transmission line. . .150-foot-high transmission towers, which would cut through Anza-Borrego State Park

The alternative would be to move the route of the transmission line slightly, increasing costs, but potentially having less environmental impact.

WTF people? Some company thinks it's a great idea to slash through a state park stringing 150ft high power lines in order to save a few bucks and you're mad at the judge?

This is the problem with politics these days. No one cares about the details anymore and instead just starts slinging blanket statements around. Did this judge really 'kill California's solar project'? No! All he said was 'How about you do it the RIGHT way and NOT carve a swath through our state park, you cheap, penny-pinching assholes?!'

The people we SHOULD be angry at are San Diego Gas & Electric and Stirling Energy Systems, who apparently don't think it's worth the extra coin to *gasp* divert their power lines a bit.

God forbid we try to cut down on half-assed-ness around here.

RE: What is wrong with you people?
By teldar on 11/6/2008 2:09:13 PM , Rating: 2
I believe the Sterling Power Systems are only in on it to build the hardware for the site, not the transmission lines. That's the parent electrical company who would be building the lines.

By andrinoaa on 11/6/2008 4:54:40 PM , Rating: 1
its obvious that the people here are just venting their biased redneck spleens. These people react the way GW Bush ran the country, All kick and no THOUGHT PROCESS. Didn't these guys learn anything at school? They keep chanting the same bullshit about enviromentalists. Do we say "line up all the neocons and shoot them " ? After all, just look at the mess they left everyone. I just don't understand this "intellectual desert" mentality that is so prevalent on this tech blogg.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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