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There's a storm brewing the Mojave Desert -- environmentalists are fighting green power advocates to block construction of 13 alternative energy projects.  (Source: New Cover Magazine)

Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, environmentalists have succeeded in essentially killing the projects, before the bill to protect the land has even passed.  (Source: Fox News)
Senator is concerned that the plants would damage wildlife

The alternative energy, battery, and alternative fuels movement has been largely guided and advocated by environmentalists over the last couple decades.  However, another important guiding force are those who merely want to improve efficiency and move us, for economic reasons, from depletable resources to sustainable ones.

As the greentech movement gains traction, those forces are finding themselves clashing more often, and some environmentalists are finding it hard to reconcile their loves of green technology and the environment.  A prime example of this is a brewing solar power mess in California.

The Mojave Desert is located in southeastern and central California, as well as Nevada.  The desert is home to Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park.  The region also receives a tremendous amount of sunlight and wind, so California, in its push to embrace alternative power approved multiple projects to be built in the desert.

Now thanks to Senator Dianne Feinstein, 13 solar and wind projects in the region may see their hopes dashed.  She has authored a bill which seeks to block the projects, which she says is critical to protect millions of acres of land.  The bill would also create two new Mojave national monuments.

Even before the bill sees a single vote, it's already ruined many of the projects.  Many of them have been delayed indefinitely, and the Californian government has changed its mind about routing new "green grid" power lines towards the monument.

Karen Douglas, chairwoman of the California Energy Commission comments, "The very existence of the monument proposal has certainly chilled development within its boundaries."

The land covered in the debate was originally owned by the Catellus Development Corporation.  It was then purchased by environmentalists and donated a decade ago to the government to protect.  Sen. Feinstein says she's just making good on that promise.

She states, "The Catellus lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy, blasted Sen. Feinstein's actions, stating, "This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review."

He says that the proposal will make it much more difficult for California to achieve its goal of having a third of its power provided by alternative energy by 2020.  BrightSource has canceled a large project planned for the monument area.

The Mojave desert, besides being ultra-sunny is home to a host of critters including the desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, fringe-toed lizards and other rare animals and plants.  As green power advocates seek to tap the abundant sunshine and wind energy across the country and the environmentalists fight to block development to protect local species, it seems that these kinds of conflicts will only be growing more heated in the near future.

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Large-scale green power
By daemonios on 12/22/2009 10:55:50 AM , Rating: 0
I don't know the details of this case, but I think megalomaniac wind and solar farms don't bring us much closer to sustainability. True, they're rewable sources. But you have to consider the environmental impacts too.

Just because they're green doesn't mean it's OK to start building them in areas of natural and cultural interest. I think you'll agree that wind towers and solar panels springing up like mushrooms in Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, etc. wouldn't exactly help preserve the value of those sites.

I think the move will have to be for smaller-scale, decentralized generation. Some areas that have already been developed are ideal for small but high-efficiency solutions. You could rig homes and buildings with small generators and although you'd always need some degree of centralized generation for peak hours and cloudy/windless periods the impacts (even in terms of transmission losses) would be much smaller.

RE: Large-scale green power
By wookie1 on 12/22/2009 11:07:00 AM , Rating: 1
The other problem is that for all that land that is taken up by the projects, you still need to build 90-95% of the conventional power generating stations you would have built without them for the times that the wind isn't blowing at night. The conventional stations need to be running at an inefficient low load since they require a couple of days to start up, and you don't have that much warning about wind patterns and cloud cover.

RE: Large-scale green power
By PitViper007 on 12/22/2009 11:10:45 AM , Rating: 1
I think the move will have to be for smaller-scale, decentralized generation.

I agree. The problem is that power generation on an individual basis is both cost prohibitive and in some cases, not allowed by local regulations. I've looked into putting solar panels on my house, and even given the Federal tax credits that I'd get, my house would be nearly paid for by the time I'd be at the break even point.

So why not wind power? In my area, they're not allowed. Plus I'm in an area that's somewhat protected from wind, meaning I would have to put the turbine on a tower, an even bigger no-no here.

Make the cost such that people can afford it, and make it so that it's LEGAL for people to install and run these systems, and I think you'd see a lot more people willing to do so.

RE: Large-scale green power
By daemonios on 12/22/2009 12:20:26 PM , Rating: 2
I know a little about the energy industry, although my contact with it has been as a lawyer. Your post really hits the mark IMHO. But there are some solutions:

1) Price: mass production of small generators will provide economies of scale. Also, more efficient equipment will further decrease the price-per-watt. Finally, incentives may be put in place to lower the total cost of ownership (e.g. the right to sell power to the grid).

2) Legal constraints: these are often associated with lobbying by incumbents and large independent producers. It'll never be a fully liberalized thing since there are technical hurdles such as grid capacity to receive electricity from decentralized production, but I believe other permitting hurdles will be progressively removed. There are already wind turbines designed for roof-top mounting and with smaller visual impact (e.g. horizontal blades that take advantage of turbulence caused by wind hitting the building).

RE: Large-scale green power
By Ringold on 12/22/2009 1:02:00 PM , Rating: 2
1) Price: mass production of small generators will provide economies of scale

The fatal flaw in this entire idea; larger commercial installations already have economies of scale in terms of getting equipment, and can achieve even better ones in terms of generating power, because they're producing megawatts, not kilowatts. Utility companies spend all their time specializing in delivering electricity, where as mom and pop have a million other priorities, from their own jobs to walking the dogs.

Not sure how this will ever change, or why we'd even want it to, because the current arrangement seems economically the most efficient to me. Self-sufficiency is a cute idea that seems popular with environmentalists, but I grew up and never had much taste for fantasies anyway.

RE: Large-scale green power
By goz314 on 12/22/09, Rating: 0
RE: Large-scale green power
By NicodemusMM on 12/22/2009 11:43:10 AM , Rating: 2
Just because they're green doesn't mean it's OK to start building them in areas of natural and cultural interest.

The problem with this is that you will never find land that isn't of interest to someone. Regardless of the location there is a fanatic out there who will provide a reason the land cannot be used.

It seems like today it has become "The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many... or the few."

RE: Large-scale green power
By daemonios on 12/22/2009 12:09:31 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, it's the opposite of NIMBY (not in my back yard). But there should be some clear-cut cases where the value of undeveloped land to the community trumps the value of these projects. In other cases it's a matter of discussing things reasonably and objectively.

In Portugal municipalities get a clean 2.5% of the income from wind generators in their area. Recently the intention was announced to ban wind farms in areas which are already designated for protection. The result, of course, was that the municipalities went ballistic.

RE: Large-scale green power
By Suntan on 12/22/2009 1:45:08 PM , Rating: 2
But there should be some clear-cut cases where the value of undeveloped land to the community trumps the value of these projects.

Yes, there is always "eminent domain" that allows the government to do what has to be done to benefit the majority, but government officials don’t get put into office by the majority anymore. They get put into office by appeasing the minority groups so they will shut up and sit down, thereby making the candidate look like the “lesser of two evils” in the eyes of the majority of voters.

In other cases it's a matter of discussing things reasonably and objectively.

Sorry, you just aren’t going to get this with people out in California. A good many of them just do not have the mental capability to understand that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. Which is to say, they can’t live in an area with no resources and then expect to get those resources without causing a negative impact in other areas.

When the people aren’t capable of figuring it out themselves, don’t want to acknowledge it even if they could figure it out, and have a whole lot of Huffinton-types telling them it is someone else’s fault, there is no hope that you can sit down and get them to be reasonable about it.


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