Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Fine Cut

Fine Cut

Start watching
SoCal Wanderer

SoCal Wanderer

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
Tending Nature
New Special Airing Nov. 14

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

Dust Problem at Ivanpah Solar

Support Provided By
553335_489996841037911_538900158_n-thumb-600x337-46125
Severe dust storm blowing off the Ivanpah Solar construction site | Photo:Basin and Range Watch

 

A photo taken in late February by members of Basin and Range Watch points up a persistent problem with siting utility-scale solar facilities in the desert: once disturbed by construction, desert soils can loose huge amounts of particulate matter into the air.

Posted to the group's Facebook page on Monday, the photo appeared with a caption reading:

We were told by the California Energy Commission, the Bureau of Land Management and BrightSource Energy that dust emissions on their Ivanpah Project in San Bernardino County, CA are under control. This is a photo of the Ivanpah 1 power block on February 23, 2013 on a windy day.

Ivanpah was far from the only place venting dust into the wind on February 23: on that same day in Joshua Tree National Park, visibility was cut severely as northerly winds blew fine sediments off the Johnson Valley Off-Road Vehicle area.

But Ivanpah's builder, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, has maintained that its method of construction of its Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System would minimize the kind of disturbance to the soil likely to result in dust problems. The plant's three 459-foot power towers are surrounded by thousands of mirrored heliostats, but rather than grading the land to mount those garage-door-sized mirrors BrightSource installed them on pylons pile-driven into the ground. Vegetation surrounding the heliostats was trimmed rather than bulldozed away, according to the company, and the remaining roots were expected to hold the soil in place where bulldozing would have left the soil vulnerable to wind erosion.

Wind-driven erosion of dust can affect wildlife and plants, even interfering with pollination. But dust means more than an environmental threat: it's a public health threat as well. Desert soils are known to harbor the spores of Valley Fever, a respiratory ailment that disproportionately affects the poor, and to which certain ethnic groups seem to suffer a genetic vulnerability. Even without pathogens, the fine suspended dust particles are hazardous to children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory problems. Particulate matter pollution is strictly regulated by the state of California, and some of the worst "non-attainment areas" in the state are in the deserts. That's precisely because desert soils are so ready to give up dust once disturbed.

It's unknown whether the dust shown in the Basin and Range Watch photo blew off the land with the "trimmed" vegetation, or off the network of access roads that crisscross the facility. Either way, based on ReWire's months of experience witnessing wind storms in the Ivanpah Valley before construction began, dust storms like that did not occur very often on the site before construction.

BrightSource representatives contacted by ReWire declined to offer comment on the photo. That may be due to having a full agenda for the last couple of days: on Wednesday, the plant focused more than a thousand heliostats on the boiler atop Unit 1's tower, the first time the project has directed concentrated solar radiation at one of the boilers. The resulting "solar flux" heated water in the boiler to just below the point of steam generation. Further tests will "stress test" the unit's hydraulics for pressure-worthiness. According to BrightSource, the 377-megawatt plant, covering about 3,500 acres of public lands, is 84 percent complete.

Support Provided By
Read More
a fire truck with smoke in the background

California Tribes Support Each Other and Seek Inclusion in State Wildfire Response

State agencies' lack of familiarity with Native lands has often led to interference with tribal evacuation efforts and unnecessary destruction of culturally sensitive habitat. To address the significant gaps between tribal needs and available assistance, even the smallest tribes do whatever it takes to care for their members and support other tribes.
a man rides his bike across an intersection and the air in hazy

The Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke Hit Vulnerable People Harder

Wildfire smoke can travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles downwind, exacerbating health conditions and impacting marginalized communities most.
 Sign reading "Imperial Beach" with sunset in the background.

A Small-Town Mayor Sued the Oil Industry. Then Exxon Went After Him.

The mayor of Imperial Beach, California, says big oil wants him to drop the lawsuit demanding the industry pay for the climate crisis.