Solar Helping Keep California Cool During This Heatwave

Solar on a Covina big box store roof | Photo: Walmart/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The agency that operates the electrical power grid for most of California forecasted last week that the state was in good shape for the summer, even without the San Onofre nuclear power plant and with drought making significantly lower output from hydroelectric stations. This week seems to be underscoring that confidence.

Warm temperatures mean greater demand for power in California as people reach for their air conditioning, and the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) is charged with making sure there's enough electrical power to meet that heightened demand. This year, the state's record drought means the prospects for hydro power in the state are well below average, and Southern California's grid still struggles to make up the more than two gigawatts of supply lost when the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station went offline.

But if CaISO's grid stats for Wednesday afternoon are any indication, last week's forecast wasn't far from the mark. With a heat wave hitting much of the state and pushing statewide power demand toward an unseasonable 40,000 megawatts, the grid seems to have plenty of juice to spare -- and more than ten percent of the afternoon's demand is being met by solar.

Rooftop Bling: Forever 21 HQ to Be Dressed in Solar Power

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ceremoniously helped install the first solar panel today on what the city is heralding as the largest single-rooftop solar power system in Los Angeles County.

The planned 5.1-megawatt solar power system being installed on the rooftop of fashion retailer Forever 21's headquarters in Lincoln Heights is the first to take advantage of two LADWP solar incentive programs on one site.

The Feed-in Tariff (FiT) Program and the Solar Incentive Program provide monetary incentives to LADWP customers who install their own solar panels and allow those customers to sell excess power back to the grid, according to LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards.

In Bay Area, Obama Announces New Solar, Conservation Programs

Obama schmoozes at Walmart after his speech | Screen capture: White House

In Mountain View today, President Barack Obama announced a set of new executive actions the White House will be taking to promote the domestic solar industry and energy conservation programs. The actions include spending an additional $2 billion to make federal buildings more energy-efficient, and providing funding for solar job training programs at community colleges across the country.

The initiatives come in the form of executive actions, said the President, due to Congressional intransigence on energy and climate matters. "Unfortunately Congress has not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like," said Obama. "In Washington, we still have a bunch of climate deniers who shout loud, but they're wasting everybody's time in a settled debate."

The announcement was made in a Walmart store in Mountain View. Walmart, which has installed more rooftop solar than any other big-box retailer, is pledging to double its solar installations, though that isn't sparing it from criticism from environmental groups.

Inyo County Backs Down on Big Solar

A gorgeous day in the Owens Valley | Photo: Elaine with grey cats/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Inyo County's Board of Supervisors has made a whole lot of people who love the Owens Valley very happy, as it's agreed to remove a large swath of the valley from designation as suitable for large-scale renewable energy development.

The move, made formal in a May 6 vote on an amendment to the County's General Plan that proposed large Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDA), was applauded by locals who've flooded the County with comments in recent months.

The Owens Valley REDA, which would have covered more than 90 square miles of the Valley floor from Independence to well south of Lone Pine, has been especially controversial in that it would have occupied the scenic core of the eastern Sierra Nevada near the foot of Mount Whitney.

2nd Tribal Solar Plant Approved On Nevada Reservation

Moapa Tribal Council member Vernon Lee, Tracey LeBeau (Director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy), Moapa Chairwoman Aletha Tom and Kathy Weiss of First Solar at the first Moapa Solar project's groundbreaking | Photo: Jim Laurie, Department of Energy

With ground only newly broken on a 250 megawatt solar project that will cover about 2,000 acres of the Moapa Paiute Reservation north of Las Vegas, the Interior Department today announced its approval of a second solar project on the tribe's lands.

The Moapa Solar Energy Center Project will be built on about 850 acres of the reservation in the shadow of the soon-to-be-shuttered Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, and will generate a maximum of 200 megawatts of power.

"Today's announcement reflects the Obama Administration's steadfast commitment to work with Indian Country leaders to promote strong, prosperous and resilient tribal economies and communities," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, in announcing Interior's decision approving the project. "This solar project and these grants also deliver on the President's Climate Action Plan goals to spur important investments and jobs in tribal communities."

Natural Gas May Be a Lot Worse for Climate Than Suspected

A drilling rig in northeastern Colorado | Photo: David Oonk, CIRES

Natural gas and oil fields may well be releasing far more climate-killing methane into the atmosphere than previously thought, undermining natural gas' usefulness as an alternative "bridge fuel" for society to use to wean itself off coal in fighting climate change.

That's according to a new federally funded study to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. In the study, conducted by researchers from NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder (CIRES), oil and gas fields in Weld County, Colorado were revealed to be leaking three times as much methane as expected into the atmosphere. Methane, a primary constituent of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent as carbon dioxide.

The researchers also found seven times as much atmospheric benzene coming off the wells as had been expected, and about twice the expected levels of a set of volatile organic compounds that contribute to ozone formation. Benzene is a known human carcinogen.

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