Feds to Be Sued Over Solar Projects' Harm to Endangered Bird

Yuma clapper rail | Photo: Courtney Conway, US Geological Survey

A national wildlife protection group announced today that it intends to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect the federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail from being harmed at industrial-scale solar power projects in the California desert.

The Yuma clapper rail, Rallus longirostris yumanensis, was listed as Endangered in 1967. Fewer than 1,000 of the birds, and perhaps fewer than 500, remain in the wild.

Since last July, two Yuma clapper rails have been found dead at solar power facilities in the California desert, likely as a result of mistaking those projects' photovoltaic panels for open water. As a result of those deaths, the Center for Biological Diversity announced Thursday that it will be suing the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agencies' failure to make sure those facilities posed no threat to the rails.

Solar Permit Bill Heading to Governor's Desk

Here comes the sun in Sacramento | Photo: duluoz cats/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A bill that would make it a lot easier to get permits to put solar on your roof is headed for the Governor's desk, having been passed by both houses of the California Legislature.

The bill, AB 2188, which ReWire reported on earlier this month, would set simple statewide standards that would cut the mounting red tape property owners face when they try to pull building permits for solar panel installation.

"Many jurisdictions in the state have adopted best practices that have significantly cut down on permitting wait times, while maintaining important public health and safety standards," said bill author Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance in the state Assembly. "It's time that we expand these practices statewide, which will help make solar more affordable and increase access to more California homeowners who want to control their electricity bills and generate their own clean energy."

Deconstructing the Dispute Over Ivanpah Bird Kill Numbers

Dead yellow-rumped warbler found at Ivanpah with solar flux injuries | Photo: CREDIT/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In the wake of a recent Associated Press story on bird deaths at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, controversy has arisen over the actual numbers of birds being killed at Ivanpah by the plant's concentrated solar energy, a.k.a. "solar flux."

The AP story by Ellen Knickmeyer and John Locher, published Monday, fueled the new dispute with this sentence, early in the piece: "Estimates [of birds killed] per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group."

That's certainly a huge discrepancy: a factor of 28. How did BrightSource and the the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) expert arrive at such diametrically opposed estimates?

Turning Lead Into Gold...Er, Solar Panels

Lead-acid batteries at a charging station in Cambodia | Photo: Roger Price/Flickr/Creative Commons License

File this under "pretty cool if it really pans out." Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have found a straightforward way to recycle toxic auto batteries into solar panels.

The MIT team, led by professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond, was studying a relatively new family of solar cell based on a promising semiconductor material called organolead halide perovskite. Cheap to synthesize, organolead halide perovskite solar panels have reached efficiencies near those of commercially available solar panels. In one study, perovskite-based solar cells converted up to 16 percent of the sunlight hitting them to electricity.

But there's a problem: though it offers the promise of cheaper solar power, making organolead halide perovskite requires a source of lead. Lead mining is one of the most environmentally destructive activities humans engage in. So Belcher, Hammond, and their team took a look at a source of lead that's already been mined: the ubiquitous lead-acid auto battery.

Has The Rice Solar Project Been Abandoned?

Removing tortoise exclusion fencing from the Rice Solar Energy Project site in June | Photo: SolarReserve

A solar power tower project proposed for a stretch of private land in Riverside County's eastern desert, and approved by state regulators in 2010, has been languishing unbuilt for four years due to lack of capital investment. Now the project owners' competitors are calling the project "abandoned." But is it?

The Rice Solar Energy Project, which would produce a maximum of 150 megawatts of power and include a molten salt storage component to produce power after sunset, was okayed by the California Energy Commission in December 2010. But since then owner SolarReserve, now wrapping up construction on the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar plant near Tonopah Nevada, has been unable to entice investors to lay down cash to get Rice built.

The delay has been long enough that representatives of other solar power tower companies are calling the project "abandoned." But a SolarReserve representative tells ReWire that reports of Rice's death are greatly exaggerated.

Renewable Energy Expert: We Don't Need Power Storage, Just Dance Lessons

Amory Lovins | Photo: Doc Searls/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's a truism among renewable energy wonks that in order to run our society on renewable energy, we'll need a revolution in energy storage technology.

The reason? Solar and wind are intermittent power sources. The sun goes down and the wind stops blowing, but we don't ever stop using electricity. That means, so the thinking goes, that either we need to get most of our power from something other than solar and wind, or we need to store electrical power generated on bright windy days for use on calm nights. Problem is, storing enough power to supply an energy demand the size of California's would be mind-bogglingly expensive.

But an expert who just might be the world's foremost renewable energy wonk says the truism is wrong, and that society can be kept fully powered entirely on renewables, using minimal storage. There will be no technological revolutions required; just a bit of choreography.

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