NEW ENERGY, OLD CONTROVERSY
World's largest solar project prompts environmental debate
Paul Rogers, December 22, 2009 (San Jose Mercury News)
"…[Solargen Energy of Silicon Valley] is proposing to build [in the Panoche Valley in rural California] what would be the world's largest solar farm — 1.2 million solar panels [at a cost of $1.8 billion] spread across an area roughly the size of 3,500 football fields…
"…In a refrain being heard increasingly across California, [critics — including some environmentalists — say] the plan to cover this ranch land with a huge solar project would harm a unique landscape and its wildlife…[while] green energy supporters are frustrated that a state that wants to lead the green revolution is facing roadblocks…[T]he Panoche Valley…20 miles from the nearest town…has 90 percent of the solar intensity of the Mojave Desert. Five willing sellers…have signed options to sell [Solargen] 18,000 acres. And huge transmission lines run through the site, negating the need to build the kind of costly and controversial new power lines that have stalled similar projects…The project would produce 420 megawatts of electricity, roughly the same as a medium-sized natural gas power plant, and enough to power 315,000 homes…"
click to enlarge
"But in recent weeks, the Santa Clara Valley, Monterey Peninsula and Fresno chapters of the Audubon Society have opposed the project…Among their primary concerns: Panoche Valley is home to several endangered species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the giant kangaroo rat. Additionally, an estimated 130 species of birds have been observed in the valley, including the bald eagle, golden eagle and prairie falcon…[Many in the groups support] renewable energy. But not here…
"Several nearby residents also are fighting the project…[saying] vast solar arrays would alter the character of the area…[Some say] Solargen, founded in 2006, has never built a solar farm, and is pursuing the project primarily for the huge federal subsidies now flowing to renewable energy…Two large solar proposals in San Luis Obispo County near the Carrizo Plain — a 250-megawatt project proposed by SunPower of San Jose, and a 550-megawatt proposal from First Solar of Arizona — also are facing environmental opposition…"
Where sheep can graze, these guys should thrive. (click to enlarge)
"…U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., …introduced a bill to establish two new national monuments on federal land in the Mojave Desert. If approved, the measure would all but kill 19 large solar and wind farms proposed for the area…[Senator Feinstein] wants no large-scale solar or wind energy on former railroad lands that the federal government acquired a decade ago and that are prime habitat for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other wildlife…[though] she supports solar energy, and her bill requires the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to identify other desert areas suitable for solar.
"But others argue that prohibiting solar developments in vast portions of California doesn't make sense…[with Governor Schwarzenegger’s new] executive order requiring 33 percent of California's electricity to come from renewable sources such as solar and wind…[and] President Barack Obama's stimulus plan…It would pay for 30 percent of Solargen's project…if ground can be broken by Dec. 1, 2010…Julia Levin, a member of the California Energy Commission and former Audubon California policy director, said large solar projects are needed because residential rooftop solar, while important, costs more and takes longer to ramp up than big commercial installations…If work started by next December, [the Panoche Valley solar project] would be finished by 2016…[The] solar panels would be on racks, 3 feet off the ground, so sheep could graze underneath, and wildlife could move under them…[And the project] would create jobs and tax revenue for the tiny county…"