Concerns Raised About The Impact of Solar Projects on Fragile Ecosystems of The Mohave Desert

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals with the mission to work for environmental enforcement, has published an inter-agency memo by the National Park Service that raises an alarm about the slew of solar projects scheduled to be built in the Mahove Desert region.

The February 9, 2009 memo from NPS Pacific Regional Director Jon Jarvis to the Acting Nevada U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Amy Leuders details concerns about 63 utility-scale solar projects slated for BLM lands in southern Nevada. Jarvis cites potential negative impacts for Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Mojave National Preserve, and the Devils Hole section of Death Valley National Park.

“The NPS asserts that it is not in the public interest for BLM to approve plans of development for water-cooled solar energy projects in the arid basins of southern Nevada, some of which are already over-appropriated, where there may be no reasonable expectation of acquiring new water rights in some basins, and where transference of existing points of diversion may be heavily constrained for some basins.”

“Except for the sun, there is little that will be ‘green’ about mega-solar plants in the desert,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that a key dilemma is that the places of greatest solar potential are also the most arid. “There is not enough water in the desert to run utility-scale water-cooled solar plants.”

Concerns about the negative impacts of big solar facilities and the transmission corridors they require to deliver power to market has led U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to propose the creation of a new national monument covering more than a half-million Mojave Desert acres to exclude BLM solar leases.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has promised to assemble a comprehensive energy plan that will presumably minimize these inter-agency conflicts. In February, Secretary Salazar suspended BLM oil and gas lease sales in Utah following protests from NPS about negative effects on nearby national parks.

“A comprehensive energy plan is needed but cannot depend solely on public lands,” added Ruch. “America’s deserts should not become national sacrifice zones for energy farms.”

The BLM has been flooded with an estimated 63 large-scale solar projects are proposed for BLM lands in the region. In addition transmission routes would have to cross BLM lands to carry power from these remote desert areas to markets in California and elsewhere.

BLM officials did not publicly respond to the issues raised in the memo, although Linda Resseguie, a BLM project manager in Washington, said there is “great sensitivity” within the agency to concerns over solar power plant siting.

There is a growing divide between some parts of the environmental community who oppose large scale solar and wind projects on undeveloped land and who instead propose that solar and wind power should be developed in the urban areas that need the power or on land that has already been degraded, such as brownfields or old mine sites etc. They encourage a vision of solar rooftops and are opposing turning large tracts of desert land into huge solar or wind power production facilities.

The solar power sector needs to find alternatives to water cooling if it wants to expand to large scale facilities in water poor areas. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project, proposed by BrightSource Energy Inc. based in Oakland, CA, would cover 4,065 acres and produce enough electricity to power nearly 200,000 homes. The plant would employ an air cooled system that requires less water.

Exelon and SunPower Announce Plans to Build Nation’s Largest Urban Solar Energy Plant in Chicago

Exelon Corp. and SunPower announced an agreement to develop the nation’s largest urban solar power plant at a former industrial site on Chicago’s South Side. The 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) facility is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. The $60 million project is contingent upon Exelon receiving a federal loan guarantee under the recently passed federal stimulus legislation formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes provisions for investment in green jobs and emissions reduction. Exelon is seeking a loan guarantee for up to 80 percent of the project cost from the U.S. Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program Office (LGPO).

Exelon plans to lease 39 acres of the West Pullman Industrial Redevelopment Area from the City of Chicago for the project. The former industrial site is a “brownfield” property that will be redeveloped for productive reuse. Exelon Generation will own and operate the plant, and market the electricity and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) it generates. SunPower, a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, will design, manufacture and install the solar system.   Exelon officials said the plant would have 32,800 solar panels that would convert the sun’s rays into electricity that could serve 1,200 to 1,500 homes for a year.

Wal-Mart expanding its use of Solar Power in California

In honor of Earth Day, Wal-Mart announced that it is expanding its solar power program in California. It plans to put solar panels on between 10 to 20 additional facilities in the state over the next year and a half. The giant retailer is building on its base of 18 solar arrays that have already been installed on Wal-Mart facilities in the state. The new solar installations are expected to provide 20 to 30 percent of each location’s electric needs, Wal-Mart said. The solar panels for these new facilities will be supplied by BP Solar.

India Plans to Get on The Solar Energy Map

In a recent report on India’s solar energy state, SEMI India said that India has a great opportunity to get on the global solar photovoltaic map. Solar energy could help fill India’s chronic energy shortage providing the country with another clean source of power. Solar energy has a huge potential to employ people of all skill levels in often undeserved rural areas that have high underemployment. Developing solar power could also help the country with its huge import bill on oil and coal, which is destined to grow as oil and other fossil fuels become increasingly scarce in the coming years. Solar energy is naturally suited for India, which is among the few countries in the world to have about 300 days of sunshine yearly.

SEMI India has formed a PV Advisory Committee headed by K. Subramanya, CEO of Tata, BP Solar Ltd, and comprising of executives from top solar PV manufacturers in the country to push the country’s activities on this front. The report comes against the backdrop of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change which had a central role for solar power, being announced by the federal government about a year ago.

The committee recommended that there be close industry-government ties to achieve manufacturing scale, drive common industry standards, goal-oriented research and development efforts, specific financing and subsidies, training and development of manpower and build consumer awareness.

A robust solar PV industry in India would create up to 100,000 new jobs in 10 years and transform the lives of 450 million people in India who even now have no access to electricity. About 50 percent of households in the country are cut off from electricity supply and the oil and coal import bill that makes up as much as 7 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product. These are dramatic enough figures pointing to the potential of solar PV-based power generation and when you add that the country has 300 days of sunshine to harness such power from, the opportunity for solar is abundant and the need, immediate, said Sathya Prasad, president, SEMI India.

First Solar gets Financing for a 53 MW Solar Facility in Germany

First Solar Inc. and Juwi Holding AG, have secured financing for a 53-megawatt solar facility in Cottbus, Germany that they are partnering to develop. The companies declined to give a dollar amount, but said that they have 80% of the financing for the project. The cost of this project — using the current cost projections for solar — could range between the high two hundred milion dollars to more than $300 million.

When completed the project, being built on a brownfield Soviet era military base will be the largest solar power facility in Germany. It will produce enough clean solar power for 14,000 homes.

“First Solar’s mission is to enable a world powered by clean, affordable solar electricity,” said Stephan Hansen, managing director, First Solar GmbH. “This project alone is expected to displace approximately 35,000 tons of C02 emissions a year. But we are particularly proud of this project because it adds an additional element to ‘clean.’ Not only will the project produce clean electricity, but it will also result in the removal of hazardous munitions from this project site,” he added.

First Solar produces thin film photovoltaic modules and is active in the German market.

© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • Max

    Germany is the country with the most installed solar energy. Hope the other countries come next.

  • GoSolarNow

    Good to see that a large company like WalMart is installing solar panels on their buildings. I guess they start out in CA due to the favorable incentives in that state for going solar — just like Google has recently done.