Local Group Wants Renewable Development in L.A., Not Owens Valley

Monument at Manzanar | Photo: ken-ichi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

California's second-largest county wants to designate almost ten percent of its land for renewable energy development, and a cultural protection group is taking up metaphorical arms against the core of the proposed policy. In doing so, it's turning NIMBYism on its head.

In Inyo County's 2013 Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment, published Wednesday on the Inyo County Planning department website, County planners describe 14 "Renewable Energy Development Areas" (REDAs) in Inyo that cover 609,502 acres of mostly public land. That's more than 950 square miles, more than nine percent of the total land mass of the county, an area about the size of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose combined.

About 190 square miles of that total would be in the scenic core of Inyo County: the Owens Valley. The Owens Valley and Owens Lake REDAs would make up 170 square miles of that in an nearly unbroken band running 40 miles between Independence and Olancha. And a group already fighting a proposed 1.8 square mile solar facility near the site of an historic wartime internment camp is calling on the county to remove the Owens Valley from consideration for landscape-level renewable energy development.

Opposition Mounts to Solar Project On Mojave Preserve Boundary

View of the North Array site's currently undisturbed desert tortoise habitat from the Soda Mountains.
| Photo: Courtesy Basin and Range Watch

If discussion at a recent gathering of activists is any indication, a nearly 4,200-acre solar project for a valley adjoining National Park land in California's Mojave desert will encounter near-unanimous opposition from green groups.

The Soda Mountain Solar project, described earlier here at ReWire, would place 358 megawatts' worth of solar panels on 2,557 acres on either side of Interstate 15 between Baker and Barstow. The project would also include about 1,600 acres of support infrastructure, including roads, operations buildings, and an electrical substation. Depending on the plant's configuration, the project's East Array would be built as little as a quarter mile from the boundary of the Mojave National Preserve, a 1.6 million-acre National Park Service unit, near Zzyzx, a former resort turned desert research center.

That perceived encroachment on the Preserve, along with the project's potential effects on desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife, prompted strong statements of opposition at a Sierra Club-sponsored meeting of California and Nevada desert activists over the weekend in Shoshone, a nearby community outside Death Valley National Park.

IRS: Renewables Companies May Be Double-Dipping Federal Subsidies

Wind turbines near Tehachapi | Photo: db's travels/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Federally subsidized wind turbine and solar facility owners may be double-dipping federal subsidies, according to a report by a division of the Internal Revenue Service, and the taxing agency has no way of sorting out which companies may be doing so.

Owners of wind turbines that were subsidized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the federal Stimulus program, are ineligible for wind power tax credits for those turbines. The same goes for stimulus-funded solar facilities and the Investment Tax Credit. But the Internal Revenue Service currently has no way of determining which companies got stimulus subsidies, raising the possibility that wind and solar companies may be receiving tax credit payments for those ineligible turbines.

If that's the case, then those companies could be engaging in a form of "double-dipping," either by error or design, that brings them more federal subsidies than the projects warrant. And according to a report by the IRS Inspector General, more than half of the ARRA grant recipients examined merit closer audits as a result.

Feds Green Light 2 More Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

Young desert tortoise emerges from ground. | Photo: mbtrama/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Interior Department announced Wednesday it was approving two large solar projects in the Mojave Desert that may displace or harm more than 2,000 desert tortoises.

In a formal Record of Decision, or ROD, issued February 19, Interior approved two projects on more than six square miles of public land in California and Nevada for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects, which the Arizona-based firm First Solar wants to build near the Mojave National Preserve south of Las Vegas. They are the 49th and 50th large renewable energy projects approved on public lands during the Obama administration.

According to an assessment of the projects released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013, the two projects are expected to displace, injure, or kill up to 2,115 federally Threatened desert tortoises. Most of the mortalities will happen to young tortoises and will likely be killed without even being detected, the agency noted.

Mainstream Media Slams Ivanpah, California's Latest Solar Project

Photo making the rounds shows a bird injured last year by solar flux at Ivanpah solar | Photo: BrightSource Energy, filed in public documents bwith California Energy Commission

If the owners of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System assumed the plant's formal opening last week would generate a wave of positive press, they're certainly regretting their assumption this week.

Though the ribbon-cutting on February 13 did prompt some uncritical praise from a few sectors, the overwhelming response from mainstream press around the world focused attention on an issue ReWire's been covering almost since we started up in 2012: the risk to birds and other wildlife from the project's concentrated solar radiation.

The project, which formally went online Thursday after three years of construction, uses more than 170,000 mirrored heliostats to focus sunlight on boilers atop three 459-foot towers. As we've written extensively in past months, the concentration of "solar flux" creates extremely high air temperatures near the towers. Those superheated zones around each tower may pose serious risk to birds and other wildlife that fly through them, and it looks as though the world press is taking notice.

Milestone: Ivanpah Solar Plant Formally Opens

It's been a long road for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), from its formal proposal by BrightSource Energy in 2007 through the well-publicized problems with desert wildlife, some of which actually brought construction to a brief halt in 2011. And this week, in a formal ceremony on Thursday, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz ushered the 377-megawatt solar power plant into its next phase, as he formally opened the plant for business.

Moniz lauded the plant in a press release issued before the ceremony, to which ReWire was not invited for some reason. "The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," said Moniz. "As the President made clear in the State of the Union, we must continue to move toward a cleaner energy economy, and this project shows that building a clean energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters American innovation."

The Department of Energy backed Ivanpah's construction with $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from its Loan Programs Office. At the ceremony, NRG Energy president Tom Doyle credited that loan guarantee with the plant's successful completion. (Though BrightSource developed the tech used at ISEGS, the plant is co-owned and co-managed by NRG Energy with Google owning part of the plant as well.)

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