L.A. Leads American Cities in Solar

Solar parking lot in California | Photo: Wayne Hsieh/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Los Angeles has more installed solar power capacity in its city limits than any other American city, according to a report released Thursday by Environment California.

According to the report, which ranks 57 American cities by both their total solar power generating capacity and their solar capacity per capita, Los Angeles leads the pack with a grand total of 132 megawatts' worth of solar within the city limits. That's according to data provided to Environment California by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The number two spot for total solar capacity goes to San Diego, with 107 total megawatts of solar in the city. San Jose takes fourth place with 94 total megawatts, and San Francisco's 26 total megawatts put it in ninth place.

Palmdale Adding Lots of Urban Solar

Palmdale's getting more solar in convenient public places. | Photo: Selbe B/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The Los Angeles County desert community of Palmdale is adding urban solar in a big way. The city announced Monday that it's building almost a megawatt of solar generating capacity in town to help meet its renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets.

Under the terms of a 20-year agreement, Palmdale will buy power from solar panels built on shade structures on three city-owned sites. The solar company Constellation will finance, build, and operate the solar arrays, selling the power generated to the city.

The new solar installations, which will amount to 976 kilowatts of capacity, will top shade structures at Palmdale's Civic Center, DryTown Water Park and Marie Kerr Park. The city says the structures have been designed to blend in with the overall "look and feel" of the city's public architecture.

Federal Lab Offers Grim Look at Solar Harm to Wildlife

Yellow-rumped warbler with solar flux damage to feathers | Photo: National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory

A report just made public by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documents a disturbing amount of bird injuries at three large California desert solar power plants, and says that there are no easy fixes to the issue.

The report, compiled by the USFWS's National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, describes the results of examinations of 233 carcasses of birds found at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) south of Las Vegas, the Desert Sunlight facility near Joshua Tree National Park, and the Genesis Solar project west of Blythe in Riverside County.

The occasionally gruesome report indicates that injuries from concentrated solar flux and from impact with mirrors or photovoltaic panels constitute the two largest solar facility threats to wild birds, and suggests that the limited scope of carcass surveys at solar projects may be obscuring the true magnitude of bird mortalities they cause.

Bad News For Big Desert Solar: Arid Lands Absorb Greenhouse Gases

If we avoid paving it, this landscape might help us fight climate change | Photo: Scott and Emily/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The debate over whether utility-scale solar projects are right for desert public lands just got more complicated. A new study shows that undisturbed desert landscapes absorb a fair amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, potentially helping to lessen climate change.

And according to the study, those landscapes may well sequester even more greenhouse gases as the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere increases.

The study, which has run for ten years on research plots in the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada, indicates that arid lands worldwide may sequester as much as eight percent of humankind's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Retired National Park Leaders Oppose Soda Mountain Solar

The Soda Mountain Solar project could dry up springs near Soda Lake in the Mojave National Preserve | Photo: "Mike" Michael L. Baird/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Five retired National Park Service Superintendents who spent a cumulative 35 years managing California's three desert National Parks are asking the Bureau of Land Management to move a 4,000-acre solar project they say would threaten the Mojave National Preserve's wildlife, views and groundwater.

In a letter to BLM California Desert District staff, the five also contend the Soda Mountain Solar project would violate local ordinances regulating renewable energy facilities. They're asking the BLM to issue a new Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project that would take a serious look at alternative locations for the project, and extend public comment on the project by another 60 days.

The project, which would straddle both sides of Interstate 15 near Baker and abut both the Preserve and a nearby wilderness study area, has been roundly criticized for its environmental impacts and the lack of demand for the 350 or so megawatts the project would generate at its maximum.

California Regulators Protect Rooftop Solar From Utilities

Solar panels on a San Francisco high school | Photo: Matt Montagne/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The state agency charged with regulating public utilities Thursday announced that Californians who sell extra power from their rooftop solar arrays to the state's utilities can keep doing so at current rates for 20 years.

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made its decision on the maximum length of existing contracts for rooftop solar owners who have so-called "Net Energy Metering" agreements with the state's utilities, under which those customers feed electricity from their rooftop solar arrays into the grid, running their electric meters back to zero.

The decision establishes a "transition period" after which new, longer-term rooftop solar policies yet to be enacted by the state will go into effect, starting in July 2017. The CPUC's decision to establish a 20-year transition period rather than a much shorter one urged by utilities is being hailed as a victory for rooftop solar.

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