The proponents of a large solar power project being considered for the California desert have suggested that they can frighten birds away from their facility effectively enough to lower the risk of wildlife injuries to acceptable levels, and they're suggesting plastic owls as part of their solution.
The suggestion came as part of the project proponent's testimony in a hearing held Thursday by the California Energy Commission concerning the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System, which would occupy just under 4,000 acres of open desert near Interstate 10 in Riverside County west of Blythe.
As evidence mounts that the project's mirrors and concentrated solar energy may pose risks to wild birds, Palen Solar Holdings (PSH), the joint venture backing the project, has proposed a plan to reduce bird injuries that includes what PSH calls "passive or automated visual deterrence techniques." One of those techniques, mentioned prominently in a slide show PSH provided to the CEC: plastic owls.
Here's an idea that looks like it might not catch on in California anytime soon. The Bureau of Land Management held an auction in Colorado Thursday morning to sell off solar energy rights the same way the agency auctions fossil fuel rights, but it failed miserably: no bidders showed up.
The BLM had offered three parcels in the sunny, high-altitude San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, covering about 3,700 acres. The San Luis Valley has been incredibly attractive to solar developers in the past, with at least three solar facilities already producing power and more on the drawing board. The BLM has designated four Solar Energy Zones in the valley that cover a total of 25.5 square miles.
So you'd think a proposed auction of solar development rights in the San Luis Valley would be a draw. But no representatives of solar companies turned out to bid at Thursday's auction, and the BLM didn't receive any sealed bids from those not in attendance. "We are going to have to regroup and figure out what didn't work," the BLM's Maryanne Kurtinaitis told Mark Jaffe of the Denver Post.
The Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday that it's extending the public comment period on a proposed desert solar project in Riverside County until November 14 to make up for October's shutdown of the federal government.
The shutdown took place right in the middle of the public comment period for the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System, which owners BrightSource Energy and Abengoa want to build in Riverside County west of Blythe.
During the shutdown, which lasted from October 1 through October 16, the 4,117-page Draft SEIS was completely unavailable to the public because the BLM's web page for the documents was offline. As ReWire mentioned October 10, that unavailability arguably meant the BLM would be violating the law if the deadline wasn't extended.
Seventeen American startups working on innovation in the solar sector have been awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to further their research -- and eight of those companies are based in California.
All told, the latest round of funding from the DoE's "SunShot Initiative" will bring nearly $6 million to California startups working on everything from streamlined rooftop solar estimation and design to more efficient power inverters.
That means the California firms have gotten about half the $12 million the Department is awarding nationwide in the SunShot Initiative's eighth round of "incubator" funding. The announcement came Tuesday as part of a $60 million round of funding intended to make solar cheaper, more efficient, and easier to incorporate into the nation's power grid.
As of last week, California utilities have an official target for how much power storage they must add to the grid -- sort of. While the October 17 ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission requires the state's largest utilities to develop more than 1,300 megawatts of electrical power storage by 2020, the commission didn't specify an actual capacity for that storage, which has led some tech-savvy members of the public to raise an eyebrow.
An environmental attorney and renewable energy wonk who was deeply involved in years of negotiations leading to last week's ruling has assured ReWire that that's not a huge problem.
ReWire reported last week that California's new 1.3 gigawatt power storage target, formalized on October 17 by a unanimous vote of the commissioners, seemed not to specify a target for how much electrical power that storage will actually store. Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov, who represented the Sierra Club in the CPUC storage proceedings, confirmed to ReWire that the ruling is silent on how many megawatt-hours' worth of storage utilities must develop.
"And I think that's okay," said Rostov.
If you think the conflict between rooftop solar advocates and big utilities seems heated here in California, you ought to cast a glimpse at our exotic neighbor to the east, Arizona. As ReWire has previously reported, a campaign in Arizona to drastically limit rooftop solar incentives has gotten quite heated in recent weeks.
This week, the story took an interesting turn, as Arizona's largest utility admitted it's been bankrolling some conservative groups' involvement in the issue, which has brought Tea Party-style charged rhetoric to the rooftop solar fray. The groups, along with the utility, want changes that could end up raising solar Arizonans' monthly electric bills by $50 to $100.
Though Arizona Public Service (APS) had long been assumed to be bankrolling a faux-grassroots opposition to net metering in Arizona, the revelation -- after months of terse denials -- is interesting in that it comes just as Arizona regulators prepare to draft a net metering policy for the state.