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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 randomly on 11/8/2008 12:47:20 PM , Rating: 3
Changes in Nuclear fuel costs have much less impact on the cost of nuclear power since it's such a small percentage of the total cost. Fuel from mined uranium only accounts for $0.0047 / KwH. Only a part of this fuel cost is the cost of the uranium. A large part is the cost of enrichment and fabrication. Doubling the market price for Uranium only increases the generated electricity cost by about 7%

Operations and maintenance account for $0.013 /KwH, and the bulk of the rest of the cost is the capital expenditure to build the plant.

Fuel from reprocessing spent fuel is about 4.5x more expensive than fuel from mined uranium. If Uranium cost went up by 4.5x, reprocessing would be fully competitive and cap the fuel costs at that point. Electricity cost would only go up about 15%.

As pointed out by another poster, the amount of uranium imported from Russia is due to agreements to buy up their stockpiles to control proliferation problems. Western countries actually produce the bulk of the Uranium mined in the world.

A projected cost increase in Uranium of 5 fold by 2017 is unfounded. Please site your source for that statement.

Your statement about fuel reprocessing being unproved is completely false. Fuel reprocessing has been in constant use for many decades now. France alone reprocesses over 1000 metric tons of spent fuel a year.

There IS a business case for expanded nuclear power. The capital costs of construction is the dominant factor that determines the competitiveness of nuclear power. The current high capital costs are partially due to lack of skilled expertise and manufacturing capability because very few nuclear plants have been built in the last 20 years. Costs will drop as more plants are built and experience and manufacturing capability is increasing.

There is currently only one company that can forge the single piece pressure vessel needed for the modern Pressurized Water Reactors, and they can only make 4 a year. However they are doubling their capacity, and 9 other companies around the world are putting in large forging capability to meet those needs as well.

Prices will come down when supply catches up with demand.

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