How Much Has The Dialog Changed on Desert Solar? Here's How Much

Desert Solar: no longer cool? | Photo: Alan Cordova/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The way environmentally concerned people think about large industrial desert solar plants has changed over the last few years. In 2009, when the first few large projects started working their way off the drawing board and into the environmental review process, hearing criticism of those projects' environmental effects was rare.

Some expressed reservations from the beginning. A few groups like Basin and Range Watch and The Wildlands Conservancywent on record early with concerns about the big projects' effects on wildlife, hydrology, and air quality. But many of the bigger groups were reluctant to oppose desert solar projects, aside from quibbling about a detail here and there, lest they be seen as not doing everything they could to support renewable energy development.

Since 2009, though, with increasing data on those large developments' effect on wildlife and the increasing viability of rooftop solar as a cheaper, more efficient alternative, green groups seem to have far less trouble speaking out against ill-sited projects. Want some evidence of how far the swing has swung? An article this week in the Palm Springs Desert Sun offers a good example: it casts green group support of a desert solar project as a surprising twist.

Study: It's Possible to Power All of California With Clean Energy, But...

Welcome to California, 2050 | Photo: FredBaby13/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A new study claims that California could power itself entirely with wind, water, solar, and geothermal energy by 2050, but it would require devoting more than 4,800 square miles of the state's land and waters to wind turbines and utility-scale solar power plants.

According to the study by Stanford engineer Mark Z. Jacobson and 27 colleagues, published in late July in the journal Energy, the state should theoretically be able to supply 95 percent of its projected demand for power with wind turbines and solar power plants, with the remaining 5 percent coming from geothermal.

The catch is that according to the study, California would need to build miles utility-scale solar power plants and wind turbines covering 3,426 square miles of the state -- more than seven times the size of the city of Los Angeles -- with offshore wind installations covering an additional 1,406 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Bill Would Streamline Rooftop Solar Permits

Installing rooftop solar in California might get easier, depending on the State Senate | Photo: Brian Kusler/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A group of solar installers wearing hardhats descended on the State Capitol today to urge lawmakers to support a bill that would make it much easier to pull permits for rooftop solar projects.

The hard-hatted lobbyists were joined at a press event by the bill's author, Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance. AB 2188 would force local governments to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to acquire permits for solar panel installation. The bill would also prevent homeowners' associations from blocking permits for most small solar arrays.

"While it can take a solar company eight hours to install a home solar system, it can take as many as five weeks to get a permit," said Muratsuchi. "AB 2188 is a commonsense approach to reducing red tape, promoting clean energy, and helping consumers save money."

Mammoth Geothermal Project Dragged Into Court

Mammoth Lakes residents fear a new geothermal plant may impair its drinking water. | Photo: Madhan Kumar/Flickr/Creative Commons License

An Eastern Sierra water agency will be filing suit over the approval of a geothermal power plant expansion, saying the project poses a threat to the local water supply.

The Mammoth Community Water District (MCWD), which provides water to Mammoth Lakes and nearby communities in Mono County, announced Friday that it will be suing the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District for signing off on the 33-megawatt Casa Diablo IV geothermal plant east of town.

MCWD charges that the air district illegally approved Casa Diablo's state and federal Environmental Impact assessments despite what it calls a flawed analysis of the project's likely effect on Mammoth's potable groundwater.

L.A. Using Only a Fraction of its Rooftop Solar Potential

Los Angeles' most climate-vulnerable communities. Click to enlarge | Image: Luskin Center | EDF

Los Angeles has installed only two percent of the rooftop solar that's feasible in the city, and raising that figure to just ten percent would create 47,000 new jobs. That's according to a new report from UCLA's Luskin Center for the Environment and Environmental Defense Fund.

The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report, or LASER, was released today as a response to the White House's Climate Data Initiative. It estimates that bringing L.A. up to ten percent of its rooftop solar potential would prevent about 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

That's like taking about 477,000 cars off the road, or burning around 2.4 billion fewer pounds of coal.

Science Incomplete on 'Stealth' Solar Wildlife Deaths

A Costa's hummingbird, one of the species commonly recovered dead at Ivanpah | Photo: eugene beckes/Flickr/Creative Commons License

We reported earlier this week on a suggestion by state agency scientists that the concentrated solar energy at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System might be killing birds without causing obvious visible burns to their feathers or skin. Now, a Federal wildlife investigations lab says there's no evidence to support that claim -- but it also says that might be because bird carcasses are rarely recovered from Ivanpah in good enough condition to study.

On Monday, our report said that California Energy Commission staff scientists Geoff Lesh and Brett Fooks had uncovered evidence that Ivanpah's concentrated "solar flux" could be killing birds that fly through the facility without causing significant external damage.

But when the commission's Chris Huntley checked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's forensics lab in Ashland, Oregon to see whether investigators there concurred with Lesh and Fooks, the response was essentially that carcass surveys at Ivanpah haven't given the lab the material they'd need to say yes or no.