As preparations continued to bring a controversial solar project online in the Mojave Desert, November saw fewer reported injuries to birds on the site compared to the month before.
According to compliance documents filed with the California Energy Commission (CEC) and posted on the CEC's website Tuesday, 11 birds and one bat were found dead on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) site in November, down from 52 birds and six bats in October.
Of the 11 dead birds reported, two, a blackbird and a yellow-rumped warbler, were described as bearing "scorched or singed" feathers, an indication of overexposure to the plant's concentrated solar flux. Three other birds exhibited signs of having collided with heliostats or other equipment, and the remainder -- as well as the one pallid bat found dead on the site in November -- were recorded as having died of "unknown" causes.
In all the gee-whiz talk of new potential tech solutions to California's energy and climate crisis, there's a simple bit of technology that can radically change the way Californians consume energy.
This gizmo could shrink our climate footprint without endangering wildlife, penalizing struggling ratepayers or requiring new, massive, and expensive infrastructure. In fact, widespread use of this technology could actually save the typical Californian a significant amount of money. And the best part is you've already got a bunch of them in your home.
What is this disruptive piece of technology? It's called an "off-switch."
Now that the Palen Solar Electric Generating System may have been dealt a death blow by regulators' concerns over concentrated solar flux's threat to wildlife, it's likely that similar questions will be asked about the Rice Solar Energy Project, a 150-megawatt solar power tower project planned for northeastern Riverside County, which would put a 653-foot tower among about 17,000 heliostats.
But Rice's owner Solar Reserve apparently has more to worry about than incinerated birds: a new paper indicates that the project may well damage the largest known population of a rare desert shrub, the crucifixion thorn (Castela emoryi).
Though the newly documented population is about six miles from the solar project site itself, the paper's authors express concern that pumping of groundwater to maintain the power tower project could lower the local water table, severely damaging the giant stand of rare shrubs.
Friday was a busy day for the California Energy Commission (CEC). As we reported Friday, the Commission released a negative proposed decision on a controversial solar project in Riverside County. But at the same time, the CEC sent out a tentative "thumbs up" on a solar project 40 miles due west that has been every bit as controversial.
Just minutes before releasing a proposed decision that would scuttle plans for the Palen Solar Electric Generating System, the CEC's presiding commissioner recommended the agency approve a redesign of the Blythe Solar Power Project (BSPP) just west of the Colorado river town Blythe.
Once lauded as the "largest solar project" ever approved for public lands by the Department of The Interior, BSPP has been cut down dramatically from its original design. Originally slated to cover 7,000 acres of old-growth desert habitat with 1,000 megawatts' worth of parabolic trough generation, the project will now generate less than half the power using a little more than 4,100 acres of photovoltaic panels and supporting infrastructure.
The California Energy Commission (CEC) is likely to deny approval to a major Riverside County solar power project that has been criticized for posing an unacceptable risk to birds and other wildlife.
In a proposed decision posted on the CEC's website Friday afternoon, Commissioner Karen Douglas -- who presided over the CEC's assessment of the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System (PSEGS) -- proposed that the CEC refuse to amend a permit that Palen Solar Holdings would require in order to build its proposed on 3,800 acres of land in the Chuckwalla Valley west of Blythe.
In the document, technically referred to as a Presiding Member's Proposed Decision (PMPD), Douglas cites mounting evidence of harm to wildlife from the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System south of Las Vegas, which has a similar though smaller design to that proposed for PSEGS, as reason to deny the project's permit amendment.
It's about as far afield from California as you can be and still be in the continental United States, but this is an interesting development in the "green on green" division that's characterized renewable energy and wildlife issues: The Maine affiliate of the National Audubon Society is being accused of softening a report on wind energy after taking donations from energy interests.
A group called Friends of Maine's Mountains (FMM) is urging Maine Audubon to retract a report on wind power and wildlife that FMM calls "one-sided" and clearly in favor of wind developers.
The group also wants Maine Audubon to disclose whether significant funding from wind and energy interests had any effect on the report's findings. Maine Audubon lists the renewable energy developer First Wind among its top donors for 2013, in a tier on its "Corporate Partners" page that indicates the wind company has donated at least $10,000.