Desert Vistas vs. Solar Power  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The New York Times has an article on the scuttling of a raft of large scale solar power projects in the Mojave desert, in the name of "protecting the environment" - Desert Vistas vs. Solar Power.

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely. The California agency charged with planning a renewable energy transmission grid has rerouted proposed power lines to avoid the monument.

“The very existence of the monument proposal has certainly chilled development within its boundaries,” said Karen Douglas, chairwoman of the California Energy Commission.

Mrs. Feinstein heads the Senate subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Interior Department, giving her substantial clout over that agency, which manages the government’s landholdings. Her intervention in the Mojave means it will be more difficult for California utilities to achieve a goal, set by the state, of obtaining a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020; projects in the monument area could have supplied a substantial portion of that power.

“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.


This might be the worst piece of ecological reporting of the decade.

Yes, some desert land may be put into a protected category. But not a large percentage of the desert.

Furthermore all attention is being paid to the set aside part of Feinstein's bill and not the part that facilitates wind, solar and geothermal in the desert.

No one seems to be reading the second part of the bill which starts...

"Title II: Renewable Energy Development

This second title of the legislation improves and streamlines the process to permit large-scale wind and solar development on suitable public and private lands in the California desert."

The monument area is in no way better for solar than is the area around the Salton Sea, for example, which is a long way away from the monument zone.

Furthermore the land needed for solar is tiny, tiny, tiny compared to the size of the Southwest desert.

Look at the green rectangle on this page.

Greatly reduce the size of the US rectangle because we won't get 100% of our power from solar. As a rough estimate, cut it in half and it will still be too large.

Then cut that piece again by at least half to remove the solar that is going to be mounted on existing rooftops and over parking lots.

Then cut that speck again to remove the amount of solar that is going to be installed in states not California.

Finally when you get down to a tiny dot you will see how ridiculous this issue is.


It would have been handy if the NYT had shown a map of the desert and how much of it is being reserved for the monument.

This thing is all over the web. I posted an updated version on Greentech Media.

Here's my "new math"...


Then look at the small green rectangle on the US portion of this map. That's the total land that would be needed if we were to power the US with 100% solar.

Now, remove all but 1/3rd of the rectangle because we aren't likely to get more than a third of our electricity from solar.

Then cut away all but 1/10th of that 1/3rd to remove the amount of US solar that is likely to be installed in other states. (Remember - AZ, NM, TX, OK, UT, CO, HI, MS, AL, LA, FL, GA, SC, and lot of other sunny places. There's solar being installed in northern states.)

Finally cut the remaining bit down to 1/4th to remove the CA solar that's likely to be installed on rooftops, over parking lots, and in other parts of CA. (Big installations going into the Central Valley.)

OK, take the remaining 1/120th (probably an overestimate) and look around the map in the first link. See that area just west of Mojave Trails? How about the area on the south side of I10 across from Sand to Snow? How about all the area around the Salton Sea? (Salton Sea - turning into a big geothermal area. Transmission line real estate/NIMBY issues already solved.)

Next, I estimate the millions of acres in SoCal and produce another statistic. ;o)

California 155,959.34 square miles. (US Census Bureau)

Arbitrarily call the bottom third of California, Southern California. SoCal encompasses roughly 52,000 square miles.

Let's say 80% of SoCal is "inland", where the sun is. Desert SoCal is about 41,600 square miles.

One square mile = 640 acres. Desert SoCal is roughly 26,624,000 acres.

The monument set aside is about 3.7% of the SoCal desert area.

There's still lots of percents left to build solar ranches and ride ones destructive off-road whatever.

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