Feinstein seeks block solar power from desert land

Mar 21, 2009 By KEVIN FREKING , Associated Press Writer
In this Friday, July 22, 2005 file photo, a rainbow forms in rainy skies over State Highway 178 between Death Valley National Park and the town of Shoshone, Calif. More than 500,000 acres in the Mojave Desert would be off-limits to wind or solar energy production under legislation Sen. Dianne Feinstein intends to introduce. The land is coveted by companies seeking to develop alternative energy, setting up a potential clash with one of the more powerful members of Congress. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

(AP) -- California's Mojave Desert may seem ideally suited for solar energy production, but concern over what several proposed projects might do to the aesthetics of the region and its tortoise population is setting up a potential clash between conservationists and companies seeking to develop renewable energy.

Nineteen companies have submitted applications to build solar or wind facilities on a parcel of 500,000 desert acres, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday such development would violate the spirit of what conservationists had intended when they donated much of the land to the public.

Feinstein said Friday she intends to push legislation that would turn the land into a national monument, which would allow for existing uses to continue while preventing future development.

The orchestrated the government's purchase of the land between 1999-2004. It negotiated a discount sale from the real estate arm of the former Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroad and then contributed $40 million to help pay for the purchase. David Myers, the conservancy's executive director, said the would do great harm to the region's desert tortoise population.

"It would destroy the entire Mojave Desert ecosystem," said David Myers, executive director of The Wildlands Conservancy.

Feinstein said the lands in question were donated or purchased with the intent that they would be protected forever. But the Bureau of Land Management considers the land now open to all types of development, except mining. That policy led the state to consider large swaths of the land for future production.

"This is unacceptable," Feinstein said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "I urge you to direct the BLM to suspend any further consideration of leases to develop former railroad lands for renewable energy or for any other purpose."

In a speech last year, Republican Gov. complained about environmental concerns slowing down the approval of solar plants in California.

"If we cannot put plants in the Mojave desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it," Schwarzenegger said at Yale University.

But Karen Douglas, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said Feinstein's proposal could be a "win-win" for energy and conservation. The governor's office said Douglas was speaking on the administration's behalf.

"The opportunity we see in the Feinstein bill is to jump-start our own efforts to find the best sites for development and to come up with a broader conservation plan that mitigates the impact of the development," Douglas said.

Douglas said that if the national monument lines were drawn without consideration of renewable energy then a conflict was likely, but it's early enough in the planning process that she's confident the state will be able to get more solar and wind projects up and running without hurting the environment.

"We think we can do both," Douglas said. "We think this is an opportunity to accelerate both."

Greg Miller of the Bureau of Land Management said there are 14 and five wind energy projects that have submitted applications seeking to develop on what's referred to as the former Catellus lands. None of the projects are close to being approved, he said.

The land lies in the southeast corner of California, between the existing Mojave National Preserve on the north and Joshua Tree National Park on the south.

"They all have to go through a rigorous environmental analysis now," Miller said. "It will be at best close to two years out before we get some of these grants approved."

Feinstein's spokesman, Gil Duran, said the senator looks forward to working with the governor and the Interior Department on the issue.

"There's plenty of room in America's deserts for the bold expansion of renewable energy projects," Duran said.

---

On the Net:

The Wildlands Conservancy: http://wildlandsconservancy.org

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 10

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Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
Fineswine, the ultimate NIMBY, Kalifornistan's her backyard!
gopher65
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
As much as environuts like to claim the contrary, Solar power (either Solar Thermal Plants or PV Solar) is far from environmentally neutral.

Thermal Plants produce little electricity, but take up a huge area to produce it. Just like any massive construction project, that damages the area and many of the species that live there.

PV panels also take up a fairly large area, but not nearly as much, and they can be concentrated in cities, so their area isn't a big deal. However their manufacture produces enormous amounts of toxic waste, which has to be disposed of somehow.

In the end the two most environmentally friendly power generation technologies are geothermal and fusion. Nothing else can compare to either one of them, solar and wind included.
deatopmg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
NIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY!
Solar heat/PV, wind, wave, biomass, etc. are all low energy density sources and therefore will, by necessity, be expensive and occupy huge areas to produce a significant amount of energy. Geothermal is fine in the very few areas that it can be used whereas fusion, as presently being researched, was and still is an insurmountable (materials engineering) pipe dream. Fission is the only non-CO2 power generating scheme that is proven and practical.
SO, bottom line - if we want to continue to have anything even close to the kind of lifestyle we've gotten used to (and the rest of the less developed world strives for) then we've got to continue to burn high energy density fossil fuels until a replacement is discovered (or revealed) or, in the mean time, cover large tracts of land in somebody's back yard with energy generators.
SineQuaNon
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
Desperate arguments from entrenched and presumably fossil-fuel funded Luddites. Investment in Concentrated Solar Power (not PV Gopher65)and an HVDC supergrid would go a lot further to protecting the Mojave and other sensitive areas than the "lets stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best" policy of Feinstein and Myers.

Power plants of sufficient number and size to make the US all but energy independent (and a whole lot closer to carbon neutral)could be built with existing technology without any negative impact on the local environment and without hurting a single hair on a single tortoise's head. California used to be the world leader in CSP technology but it seems to have dropped the ball.

The total size of the power plants relative to the size of the desert would be utterly negligible and the environmental impact could be positive rather than negative in terms of fresh water generation and local provision of shade. The numbers have been reliably crunched and found to add up by the German Aerospace Centre which is why Europe and North Africa are well on the way to using the clean green gigawatts available in the Sahara. Google "Desertec" to see the overwhelming evidence in favour of using the desert as a practical, CLEAN and completely reliable energy source.
Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2009
Insolation is about 5 kWh m^-2 d^-1. You do the math.

Who doesn't do arithmetic is doomed to nonsense.
Ashibayai
5 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2009
"If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it," Schwarzenegger said at Yale University.




Best quote ever. In the end whether it helps or hurts, putting it in the desert will ensure that it does the least damage possible.
CWFlink
5 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2009
Lets face it... we won't get consensus on the environmental impact of wind, solar OR the power grid needed by either. These solutions will be visually ugly, environmentally damaging and leave scars across great expanses of the nation. Further, the "smart grid" offers privacy and security risks, offering many points of failure that must be carefully managed.

What we NEED is something localized and independently owned / operated; offering limited geographical impact / risk.

Before we spend a TRILLION or more on a "big industry" solution, we need to revisit the potential of Thorium based Micro Reactors.

Micro reactors offer solutions that are small enough to allow factories, towns, apartment complexes, airports, etc. to own their own nuclear power. The new designs for Micro Reactors are self limiting; the laws of Physics assure us they will never overheat, melt down or explode. They require little or no maintenance and are small enough to be hauled on flat bed trucks. The use of the Thorium cycle eliminates the danger of nuclear proliferation and reduces the nuclear waste problem by a factor of a 100 (or more when you consider the shorter half life of the thorium byproducts.) By being small and simple compared to the traditional nuclear power plants, micro nuclear reactors can be inexpensively mass produced in factories and delivered to customers around the world.

Regardless of what we do in the U.S., in the future the 3rd world will snap up these systems just like they adopted cell phones / towers; they simply cannot afford the time, money or space in crowded cities for the power lines, just like the couldn't wire their cities for landlines.

We've already been forced to accept that we cannot ban nuclear power from the 3rd world... it would be much better for us all if SAFE nuclear power was promoted POSITIVELY rather than continuing the history of forcing these countries to reinvent nuclear technology, along with learning all the wrong lessons about international cooperation.

Check out the following sites:
http://peswiki.co...Reactors
http://www.thoriumenergy.com/
http://www.thoriumpower.com/
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2009
Why should they declare a new preserve if the mohave desert has already been presevred by two big preserves? It seems stupid to make another preserve at this time.
SDMike2
1 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2009
The Demorats are insane. Must have "green Energy"! Must not use any known method of power generation! When are The People going to wake up and ignore or hospitalize these nut jobs? So what if they are elected? Hospitalize everyone who voted for them! They're insane too.
Alternatively, the rest of the country should expel the counties where all the nuts live. Let them have their own conutry
(sic) where they can enact all the insane laws they want with out hurting the rest of us. Let them fill their conutry with illegals and electric cars powered by some yet to be invented green source.
SDMike2
not rated yet Mar 23, 2009
There IS a Feinstein Compatibly Solution - Rickshaws. Illegal powered rickshaws!