With a flick of a giant ceremonial switch but not much else in the way of fanfare, the Genesis Solar Energy Project has gone online in the eastern desert of Riverside County. The 4,600-acre project near Ford Dry Lake will generate up to 250 megawatts of power to be bought by the Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).
Approved by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior in 2010, the project, built by NextEra Energy Resources 25 miles west of Blythe, hit speedbumps ranging from lawsuits to wildlife illnesses to unanticipated archaeological discoveries on the path to Thursday's figurative ribbon-cutting.
Among the dignitaries flipping the "switch" on April 24 at Genesis were CEC Commissioner David Hochschild and Michael Peavey of the California Public Utilities Commission. The event formally adds up to 250 megawatts to California's solar thermal generating capacity.
The California Energy Commission just dealt the final death blow to a proposed solar project that was once one of the most controversial in the California Desert. With no one making any moves to object, the CEC terminated the application process for the Ridgecrest Solar Power Project, which would have generated 250 megawatts on almost 4,000 acres of public lands in the western Mojave.
Tuesday's move by the CEC will surprise no one: the project has been effectively dead for some years. The proponent, Solar Millennium, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was liquidated by 2013. The Bureau of Land Management revoked the project's right to use public lands even earlier, in 2011, a year after the CEC staff recommended against approving the project because of the damage it would do to the desert's wildlife.
But today's action does close a chapter in the early history of utility-scale desert solar projects, and it's worth remarking upon as the end of an era -- and as good news for one of the Mojave's rarest mammals.
Here's an idea that ought to be adopted more widely: students on the UC Riverside campus can now top off the charge on their phones, tablets, and laptops at tables on campus run by off-the-grid solar power.
As of this week, the campus now sports 13 self-contained, off-the-grid solar cafe tables, each one with eight standard 120-volt and eight USB charging ports built in. (Sixteen charging ports per table? That should keep plug access battles to a minimum.)
The juice for the ports comes from batteries built into the table bases, which are charged by 265-watt solar panels that also serve as shade canopies. Under normal circumstances each day's sunlight should provide enough stored charge for more than 150 mobile device fill-ups, and the batteries will need replacing only once every five years.
Bird deaths continued in March at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in San Bernardino County, in the wake of worldwide press coverage of the effect of the project's concentrated solar "flux" on birds and other flying wildlife.
Of 55 birds found dead or injured on the project site in March, 22, or 40 percent, showed unambiguous signs of injury by the project's concentrated solar flux. Almost all the remainder were too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death. Five birds were found while still alive; one, a double-crested cormorant, was released after a few hours, while two ravens found with flux burns were sent to a rehab facility, A swallow and a hummingbird found alive died of apparent solar flux injuries within hours of being captured.
Of 55 birds found dead or injured on the project site during surveys and in the course of regular operations in March, 22, or 40 percent, showed unambiguous signs of injury by the project's concentrated solar flux. Almost all the remainder were too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death. Five birds were found while still alive; one, a double-crested cormorant, was released after a few hours, while two ravens found with flux burns were sent to a rehab facility, A swallow and a hummingbird found alive died of apparent solar flux injuries within hours of being captured.
The injuries and deaths were reported by project manager NRG Energy in a monthly compliance report submitted to the California Energy Commission. The report comes just weeks after a report by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that the Ivanpah plant's solar flux may be a deadly "megatrap" for an entire food chain.
The Bureau of Land Management has released a draft of the environmental assessment for a proposed wind energy facility that would occupy 1,100 acres near Rosamond in the western Mojave Desert's Antelope Valley, at the eastern edge of the California condor's expanding range. But according to the document, the project's 40 wind turbines pose no threat to the Endangered birds.
The Tylerhorse Wind Project, which enXco wants to build in the southern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, would generate a maximum of 60 megawatts of electrical power. Other species that may be affected by the project include golden eagles and burrowing owls.
Despite the project's close proximity to the expanding condor territory south of Tehachapi, the BLM's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project states that Tylerhorse's 40 wind turbines can be built and operated without harm to the critically imperiled scavenging birds -- even as it admits that "the ability of condors to avoid wind turbines is unknown."
The state agency charged with regulating California's electrical utilities may bar those utilities from penalizing homeowners and businesses who augment their solar panels with on-site battery power storage.
If a proposed decision released Tuesday is approved, the California Public Utilities Commission would prevent utilities from levying most extra fees on solar customers who install batteries to store some of the power their panels generate.
As ReWire has reported in the past, California utilities have been dragging their feet on approving Net Energy Metering arrangements with customers who've shelled out for battery storage on their properties. That's despite increasing pressure from California's policymakers to build energy storage capacity in the state in the battle to reduce California's climate footprint.