The White House has announced its choice for the new head of the Bureau of Land Management, and the nomination may well signal an intent to continue the aggressive development of renewable energy facilities on public lands that has characterized the Obama administration's energy policy over last five years.
Nominee Neil Kornze, who has been BLM's Principal Deputy Director and Acting Director since March, was a main architect of the Obama administration's public lands solar policy during his tenure as Acting Deputy Director for Policy and Programs from October 2011 through March 2013. He played a major role in developing the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar development in six southwestern states, the cornerstone of the administration's renewable energy policy also known as the Western Solar Plan.
The Plan established 445 square miles of Solar Energy Zones where solar energy development would be encouraged, along with almost 30,000 square miles of "variance" lands which would also be opened up for solar development. Most of the area designated as Solar Energy Zones is in California, with more than half the total -- 231 square miles -- in Riverside County.
The people who want to build the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside County have made no secret of the fact that delays in approval could doom the project. If the 3,800-acre concentrating solar facility doesn't win approval by January from both the state and federal governments, the facility might not be built in time to start delivering power to the utilities that have signed contracts with the builders, and that could make lenders reconsider their support of the project.
If you look through the transcripts of California Energy Commission (CEC) meetings discussing the Palen project, it's not hard to find pointed references to that pressing schedule made by representatives of Palen Solar Holdings (PSH), the joint venture of BrightSource Energy and Abengoa that proposes to build the $2-billion-plus project 35 miles west of Blythe.
But now those very transcripts may add to the delay all by themselves.
Last month Arizona's largest power company admitted it had quietly been funding ultraconservative groups opposed to rooftop solar. Now, a solar advocacy group is pressing a national utility trade association to disavow what it calls the utility's "underhanded behavior," and asking the national group to divulge whether it's engaged in similar political spending.
The Arizona Public Service Company (APS) admitted recently that it had funneled at least $9 million to out-of-state groups that then used the money to campaign for reduced incentives for rooftop solar in Arizona. For several months before the admission, APS had maintained that its funding of the groups and their opposition to rooftop solar was merely a coincidence.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), an association of solar companies involved in the distributed generation market, urged the national utility association the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) to distance itself from APS's stealth PR tactics. That may be asking a lot, as it turns out EEI is pitching its own anti-solar ads in Arizona.
The proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System will cause damage to wild bird populations that cannot be mitigated, and poses significant risk to fringe-toed lizards and desert kit foxes as well. That's the gist of testimony provided by state and federal staff, scientists, and environmental activists at a state agency hearing on the project in late October.
According to the transcript of the California Energy Commission's public hearing held Tuesday, October 29 in Palm Desert, which was posted to the CEC website Monday, the project in Riverside County's Chuckwalla Valley s expected to cause unavoidable harm to wild birds through collisions with mirrors and other equipment, as well as burn injuries from the project's concentrated solar energy -- and CEC staff have no idea how that damage can be successfully remedied.
The project footprint is expected to interfere with the movement of wind-blown sand through the Chuckwalla Valley, which will likely degrade habitat for the Mojave fringe-toed lizard downwind. And people in attendance raised concerns over whether the project would continue the ongoing threat to local desert kit foxes, as well as questioning whether project proponents have agreed to set aside enough land for desert tortoises to make up for the loss of nearly six square miles of potential habitat.
Rooftop solar really started taking off in California when third-party leasing companies offered property owners a way to go solar without laying out any cash up front. Now, a startup is bringing that leasing model to a wholly different renewable energy realm: decentralized power storage.
Stem, a Bay Area-based firm working in the electrical power storage field, has launched a venture that will lease power storage capacity to businesses. Stem's equipment will allow businesses to reduce their power consumption from the grid at peak times, offering electric bill reductions of between 10 and 40 percent -- and helping the power grid avoid uncomfortable shortfalls of power during peak periods.
Best of all, Stem leases their storage banks to firms with no money upfront, and lease payments are at least partly offset by significantly reduced power bills. Which should make the whole prospect much more attractive to businesses looking to take control of their power consumption.
An innovative California dairy is getting a bit of press for tapping one of its most abundant products to make electricity. On Friday, Antonio Brasil's dairy in the Merced County town of Dos Palos unveiled its newest feature: a 240-kilowatt power plant fueled by cow poop.
The unveiling of the 10,000 square foot digester was hosted by Fresno area Congressional Representative Jim Costa, who lauded the joint venture between Brasil and Carson City, NV-based Elite Energy.
"What we're really talking about here is protecting water resources, protecting the air quality and climate, creating a renewable energy stream," said Costa.
The project's anaerobic digester will create a stream of something besides renewable energy, as well: about 18,000 gallons of liquid compost a day, and 25 cubic yards oof soil amendment.
A typical dairy cow produces about 180 pounds of manure and urine every day. California, which produces a bit more than a fifth of the nation's milk supply, has about 1.8 million cows. That's a huge waste stream, and it's an environmental problem. Nitrates from dairy farm effluent can seriously pollute air and water, not to mention making life miserable for neighbors in a more strictly aesthetic sense.