Solar power development in US Southwest could threaten wildlife

Dec 09, 2011

Government agencies are considering scores of applications to develop utility-scale solar power installations in the desert Southwest of the United States, but too little is known to judge their likely effects on wildlife, according to an article published in the December 2011 issue of BioScience. Although solar power is often seen as a "green" energy technology, available information suggests a worrisome range of possible impacts. These concern wildlife biologists because the region is a hotspot of biodiversity and includes many endangered or protected species, notably Agassiz's desert tortoise. It and another tortoise, Morafka's, dig burrows that shelter many other organisms.

The article, by Jeffrey E. Lovich and Joshua R. Ennen of the US Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Science Center, notes that solar energy facilities are poised for rapid development and could cover hundreds of thousands of hectares. Assessments of their effects should count both onsite and offsite effects and include construction and decommissioning as well as the operational phase, the authors point out. Yet there are to date almost no peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of specifically.

The authors' initial attempt to catalogue the foreseeable effects draws attention to caused by roads and power lines, which could restrict gene flow, as well as the production of large amounts of dust through ground-disturbance. Solar plants are also expected to release pollutants such as dust suppressants, rust suppressants, and antifreeze, both in routine operation as well as through spills. They will predictably generate heat, electromagnetic fields, noise, polarized light, and possibly ignite fires. Evaporative ponds, which concentrate toxins, may be used and are a recognized hazard to wildlife. Because wet-cooled turbines need to be supplied with large amounts of water, developers are leaning toward using dry-cooled turbines, but these have a larger "footprint" than wet-cooled ones.

The dearth of reliable information indicates an urgent need for careful, controlled, pre- and post-construction studies of the effects of solar power plants in the Southwest, Lovich and Ennen argue. Such studies could attempt to determine information useful for optimally siting the plants, such as whether damage is minimized if they are concentrated in a few places or dispersed, as well as suggest preferred locations and mitigation possibilities.

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2011
Antifreeze? In deserts? Whatever for?
Antidust? It's called water. Yeah. Dangerous stuff.
Rust suppressants? You've got to be kidding me. A coat of paint is a health hazard to biodiversity?

Yep. Let's rather put up a coal/oil/nuclear powerplant there. Much better for biodiversity. (/sarcasm)
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
Better for the turtles to just go in there and frack the place up. Frack biodiversity. The important thing is diversity in big energy's portfolio! The rest will "trickle down."
retrosurf
not rated yet Dec 09, 2011
Desert means dry, not warm.

Antifreeze in vehicles in the desert is really important, especially high desert. Likewise, flat panel thermal collection needs it, to avoid radiation freezing (and just plain coldness in the winter). Drain-down systems are more complex, with more dangerous failure modes.

Anti-dust is usually something hygroscopic put on dirt or gravel roads to prevent them from producing dust.

Vehicles will be driving often on these roads, looking for a particular kind of hotspot in the bonded leads in the panel, and the dust from these vehicles will settle on panels. In an arid region where rain will not often wash panels clean, dust has economic consequences with regard to power production. Cleaning panels is also suprisingly expensive.

Calcium chloride is one road-dust controller. Ground dwelling creatures would have to crawl through it.
CHollman82
3 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2011
Antifreeze? In deserts? Whatever for?


Deserts get cold at night... plus deserts aren't necessarily hot to begin with, Antarctica is a desert.
CHollman82
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2011
...but newsflash: Anything humans do anywhere will affect wildlife.
Nanobanano
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
I'll tell you what else affects wildlife:

That ocean acidification which will begin making shellfish extinct in about 20 years.

That 2.0 to 3.5C rise in mean ocean temperature which will be taking place over the next 90 years.

And those plus 1 to plus 2 categories hurricanes that will begin hitting pretty much every coastline on earth.

Not to mention 7 or more feet of sea level rise by 2100.

Those things are really gonna start making the natives restless.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
Deserts get cold at night... plus deserts aren't necessarily hot to begin with, Antarctica is a desert.
PV doesn't require water. Solar thermal works with oil or molten salts. Oil doesn't freeze and the salts have to be kept warm anyhow.
So what exactly do you need antifreeze (in large quantities so as to affect the environment) for?

Dust can be cleared via ultrasonic vibrations.
Skepticus
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
- Coal and oil power pollutes the air. Coal mines, oil wells and oil shales are disasters on environment and ecology. - Hydro power dams are also disasters on environment and ecology.
- Wind farms are eye sores and investment value-killer to beach dwellers, kill birds and bats and affect wind patterns.
- Tidal generators are eyesores, change ocean currents that will make the plankton, the fishes, and boats owners very unhappy.
- Solar farms mess up the pristine desert scenery and putting the shades on the poor bugs, snake and rodents that lives there.
Burning wood is stupid. There is not enough trees, and it is wasteful and polluting.
- Nuclear is only allowed in bombs. Nuclear power stations are proven deathtraps. Nuclear fuel breeding/recycling is not an option. Too easy a path to weaponization that will upset the power balance.
- Geothermal are too expensive, depends on suitable location, unless deep drilling can be done cheaply...and they are sand in environmentalists' eyes, too.

Skepticus
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
..cont.
So, that's it folks. Back to the caves, curl your legs up and tuck your balls in.
RustyMustard
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
No matter how you look at it, centralized power of almost any sort is going to have negative consequences on a large scale.

The sooner we embrace the logical leap of decentralization and utilization of 50 year old technology that should be part of every home, the sooner we can end the war for energy. I and several of my friends live better than you off grid and decentralized. I make my power with pv panels above my head, on my roof. Most of grid power is wasted in transmission, it's vulnerable, and costs more than buying solar panels, a charge controller and batteries anyways. My friends have a welding and metal shop that runs entirely on solar and wind, no grid tie, for a welding shop full of power tools.

Also, I like to point and laugh when the grid goes down, as it often does here, I've still got free power regardless, and I'm really glad I'm smart enough not to be paying a utility company so I can sit in the dark for a night or two everytime the wind blows.

Decentralize
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
Wind farms are eye sores and investment value-killer to beach dwellers, kill birds and bats and affect wind patterns.

Off shore?

Tidal generators are eyesores, change ocean currents that will make the plankton, the fishes, and boats owners very unhappy.

The limpet generators are almost invisible. Tidal generators do not change the currents one bit (whether the energy of the tide is spent on grinding down sand on the beach or driving a generator doesn't matter)
Solar farms mess up the pristine desert scenery and putting the shades on the poor bugs, snake and rodents that lives there.

Yeah - like those bugs will REALLY hate it if they get any shade. As for 'pristine scenery'. Who cares? No one lives there.

centralized power of almost any sort is going to have negative consequences on a large scale.

Fusion (if we get it to work) might not.

off grid...

Not an option for city dwellers (which are the majority)

CHollman82
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
No matter how you look at it, centralized power of almost any sort is going to have negative consequences on a large scale.

The sooner we embrace the logical leap of decentralization and utilization of 50 year old technology that should be part of every home, the sooner we can end the war for energy.


Agreed, this is the only reasonable solution. Every homeowner should be responsible for collecting their own energy, and every building owner should be responsible for providing their tenets with the necessary electrical energy. Not only does this put the responsibility in the correct hands it also strengthens our infrastructure and protects it from would be attackers. Imagine if every single home and building in this country was capable of collecting it's own electrical energy, there would be no such thing as blackouts like what happened to the entire North East a few years ago. Yes initial price will go up but your electric bill will virtually be eliminated to compensate.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
Imagine if every single home and building in this country was capable of collecting it's own electrical energy

And how exactly do you propose a highrise should collect enough energy?
Remember that the majority of people in industrializd nations live in cities. The only way to do this would be via block type heat and power units. Such small units, however, have a greater output of pollutants than large plants (they cannot be fitted with the hugely expensive filters you find in regular powerplants)

Also remember that there are such things as factories - some of which require large amounts of power which they cannot possibly generate themselves.

Decentralized power structures are a good idea - where applicable.
What we need is a mix of decentralized and centralized power generation depending on characteristic of local energy use and space availability.