Desert Energy Plan Would Devote 2 Million Acres To Renewables

The Draft DRECP is out, after years of delay | Photo: DRECP

A long-awaited master planning document in the works since 2008 that will guide renewable energy development in the California desert is out in draft form today, and residents of the West Mojave and some other parts of the desert will not be happy.

The draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, which attempts to craft a region-wide development framework for 22 million acres of California desert in six counties, would designate more than two million acres as renewable energy Development Focus Areas (DFAs), mainly clustered in the western Mojave, the Barstow-Victorville area, eastern Imperial County, and the I-10 corridor in Riverside County.

DFAs, where permitting for renewable energy development would be fast-tracked, would also be created near Tecopa, Lucerne Valley, and Ridgecrest, as well as a geothermal-oriented DFA in the southern Owens Valley near Olancha. The goal is to promote the construction of up to 20,000 megawatts of new wind, solar, and geothermal power generating capacity in the DRECP plan area by 2040.

What Does 'Carbon-Neutral' Really Mean?

It's not so simple to figure out your company's carbon footprint | Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A segment on KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected" has been produced in tandem with this story. Watch it here now.

Protesters clogged the streets of New York City on Sunday in the largest march ever focused on the threat of climate change. The People's Climate March in Manhattan, with at least 100,000 participants, is just the latest piece of evidence that more and more people are worried about our warming world. As our concern over climate change mounts, environment-savvy entrepreneurs and others are looking for ways to shift the way we run our society to have less of an impact on the climate.

As businesses start looking for ways not to affect the planet's natural carbon cycles, the phrases "carbon-neutral" and "carbon-negative" have increasingly become industry buzzwords. They're shorthand used to describe that goal of putting fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or none at all. But what do they really mean?

At first glance, they seem simple. "Carbon-neutral" means that whatever you're doing, making products or shipping them or whatever your business does -- we'll call it a "widget" for simplicity's sake -- you're not adding any greenhouse gases to the air. A carbon-negative widget actually causes greenhouse gases to be removed from the atmosphere. Both are great goals, but it turns out they're not so simple to describe.

Feds Fund Research Into Taller Wind Turbines

Taller wind turbines could be coming to an open space near you. | Photo: Dennis Wilkinson/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Thursday it's plowing $2 million into two groups working on ways to build wind turbines that are one and a half times taller than current designs.

The intent is to harness winds at higher altitudes, which are often stronger and steadier than more turbulent winds closer to the ground. Making wind turbine supports taller would also allow longer rotor blades, which can drive bigger turbines.

Onshore wind turbines installed in the U.S. in 2013 had an average hub height of 80 meters, or about 260 feet. DoE grant recipients Keystone Towers of Massachusetts and Iowa State University are working on separate technologies that could result in sturdy, relatively inexpensive wind turbine towers as tall as 120 meters, or about 400 feet.

California Set to Approve Controversial Solar Plant

Palen as imagined with two towers | Image: California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission gave tentative approval Friday evening to a reconfigured solar power plant in Riverside County that opponents say potentially poses a serious risk to migrating birds.

At 4:55 p.m. on Friday, September 12, the commission announced a preliminary decision to approve what is essentially half of the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System, which would have placed 170,000 of mirrored heliostats on just under 3,800 acres of land adjacent to Interstate 10. Those heliostats would have focused sunlight on boilers atop two 750-foot towers -- the tallest structures between Los Angeles and Phoenix.

In Friday's decision, the commission gave preliminary approval to a version of the project that would include just one tower and about 1,900 acres of heliostats, and leaves the way open for Palen's owners to build the second half of the project in the future.

Group Urges Public Comment on Desert Transmission Line

Opposition mounts to a proposed transmission corridor through the Mojave Desert | Photo: Duke Energy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A group of concerned residents of the Mojave Desert is urging the public to make their feelings known about a proposed transmission line that would run across 63 miles of the central Mojave Desert.

The Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project would string two large transmission lines from the Coolwater Substation at Daggett to the Lugo Substation near I-15 south of Hesperia, zig-zagging through the Lucerne Valley and Apple Valley areas along the way.

Southern California Edison contends the lines are needed to augment transmission capacity between desert renewable energy facilities and Southern California cities. But the Apple Valley-based Alliance for Desert Preservation disputes that claim, saying that the project is designed to transmit power from renewable facilities in the east Mojave that may never be built.

Report Shows Need to Protect Bird Habitat While Fighting Climate Change

Golden eagles stand to lose 79 percent of their winter range by 2080 | Photo: John Kay/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The National Audubon Society released the results of a seven-year study this week on the future of North American birds in a warming world, and that report is getting a lot of press. According to the report, of 588 species of birds studied, 314 are at risk of extinction due to climate change before the end of the century.

The study, based on data from Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird survey, found that 126 bird species are "climate-endangered": they're expected to lose more than 50 percent of their North American range by 2050 due to a warming climate. In other words, changing climate will make more than 50 percent of those birds' current range unsuitable for their survival. Another 188 "climate-threatened" bird species are projected to lose more than half their current range by 2080, though they may gain new potential range in areas formerly too cold or otherwise inhospitable.

The report underscores the dire future birds face if we don't act now to stem climate change. But it also highlights the main reason climate change threatens birds. A warming world means less habitat for many species of birds, which should give pause to those trying to excuse destruction of remaining habitat in order to combat climate change.

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