California Regulators Protect Rooftop Solar From Utilities

Solar panels on a San Francisco high school | Photo: Matt Montagne/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The state agency charged with regulating public utilities Thursday announced that Californians who sell extra power from their rooftop solar arrays to the state's utilities can keep doing so at current rates for 20 years.

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made its decision on the maximum length of existing contracts for rooftop solar owners who have so-called "Net Energy Metering" agreements with the state's utilities, under which those customers feed electricity from their rooftop solar arrays into the grid, running their electric meters back to zero.

The decision establishes a "transition period" after which new, longer-term rooftop solar policies yet to be enacted by the state will go into effect, starting in July 2017. The CPUC's decision to establish a 20-year transition period rather than a much shorter one urged by utilities is being hailed as a victory for rooftop solar.

Ivanpah Solar Plant Owners Want To Burn a Lot More Natural Gas

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System | Photo: Penny Meyer/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's been lauded as the world's largest solar power plant, but the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System could also be called the world's largest gas-fired power plant (largest as in physical size, not gas consumption). Each of the 4,000-acre facility's three units has gas-fired boilers used to warm up the fluid in the turbines in the early morning, to keep that fluid at an optimum temperature through the night, and to boost production during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud.

The project's managers, BrightSource Energy and NRG Energy, originally estimated that the plant's main auxiliary boilers would need to run for an hour a day, on average, to allow the plant to capture solar energy efficiently. But after a few months of operation, they're now saying they need to burn more gas, with the boilers running an average of five hours a day.

To that end, the companies have asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to change the project's license to allow Ivanpah to burn more than 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a year, and the plant's operators say that change won't have any environmental impact.

Departing Joshua Tree Superintendent Slams Desert Solar

Mark Butler with his A 38-year veteran of the National Park Service who capped his career by spending three years running Joshua Tree National Park has come out against a solar project proposed for the central Mojave Desert in no uncertain terms.

Mark Butler, who retired from his post at Joshua Tree's Superintendent last month, penned an op-ed in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times in which he slams the Soda Mountain Solar project near the Mojave National Preserve, calling it contrary to the mission of the National Park Service.

"After nearly 38 years working for the National Park Service, I hung up my 'flat hat' this month and retired as superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park," wrote Butler. "That means I can now speak out against pending proposals with the potential to harm our country's most spectacular national parks in the California desert."

Committee Hearing on Wind Energy and Eagles Deadlocks in Partisan Posturing

USFWS Director Dan Ashe testifies before Congress | Photo: Library of Congress

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe delivered subpoenaed testimony Wednesday before a House committee investigating the agency's approach to wind turbine deaths of eagles and other birds. But what could have been an informative and illuminating hearing on Obama administration policy regarding wildlife and renewable energy turned out to be nearly two hours of partisan posturing instead.

Ashe, who received a subpoena earlier this month to appear before the House Natural Resources Committee, maintained that Committee's demands for information on USFWS wind and wildlife policy were interfering with his agency's enforcement of wildlife law by diverting staff resources.

According to Ashe, 125 USFWS staff were engaged full time in answering Congressional requests for information. That includes 54 special law enforcement agents, who Ashe said were taken off jobs "addressing the international criminals who are ravaging elephants and rhinos worldwide."

Builder Wants Riverside County Solar Project Back on Table

Artist's impression, Palen Solar Electric Generating System | Photo: CEC

The companies behind a rejected solar project that would place boilers atop two 750-foot towers near Interstate 10 in Riverside County want their proposal back on the table, according to documents filed with the state's energy agency.

The Palen Solar Electric Generating System (PSEGS), which BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar (doing business as Palen Solar Holdings, a.k.a. PSH) want to build on almost 2,800 acres of desert land west of Blythe, has been suspended since January, after a preliminary decision by the California Energy Commission recommended rejecting the project.

In January, the CEC agreed to suspend the project at PSH's request rather than deny it outright. PSH was invited at that meeting to reopen the proceedings if the company was able to address the CEC's concerns over the project's environmental and cultural impacts. Now, PSH says it's ready to address those problems and wants Palen back on the table.

Fact Checking NASA: A Missed Landing on Ivanpah Dry Lake

Ivanpah solar project from space | Photo: NASA

We're huge fans of NASA's Earth Observatory website here at ReWire, so it pains us to report that the site got something badly wrong on Sunday. It put a controversial solar power plant in the wrong place, despite clear evidence in the post's photo, reprinted above: a Landsat 8 photo of the Ivanpah Valley taken in December 2013.

The post, written to describe the image of the day, makes the error in the second paragraph: "The new solar power plant sits within Ivanpah Dry Lake on 3,500 acres of public land that sees 330 to 350 sunny days per year." The error even extends to the post's title: Harvesting Sunlight on the Playa. (Update: NASA changed the second paragraph after this post was published; the headline remains unchanged.)

What's the problem? The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which officially went online last month, was not built "within Ivanpah Dry Lake," a.k.a "the playa." The project is actually several miles uphill from the dry lake, on an alluvial fan once teeming with wildlife. A half-trained eye could look at the Landsat image and see that's so. And here's why that distinction is important.

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