World's largest solar project prompts environmental debate  

Posted by Big Gav

The San Jose Mercury has an article on opposition to a solar power proposal that seems as well sited as you could get - World's largest solar project prompts environmental debate.

Panoche Valley is known mostly for cattle and barbed wire, a treeless landscape in eastern San Benito County that turns green every spring but for much of the year looks like rural Nevada.

A posse of lawmen gunned down the famous Gold Rush bandit Joaquin Murrieta, an inspiration for the fictional character Zorro, near here in 1853. Nothing that exciting has happened since.

But now the remote valley 25 miles south of Hollister is finding itself at the center of a new showdown. A Silicon Valley company is proposing to build here what would be the world's largest solar farm — 1.2 million solar panels spread across an area roughly the size of 3,500 football fields.

"This is renewable energy. It doesn't cause pollution, it doesn't use coal or foreign oil, and it emits no greenhouse gases," said Mike Peterson, CEO of Solargen Energy, the Cupertino company behind the $1.8 billion project.

But critics — including some environmentalists — say green energy isn't always green. In a refrain being heard increasingly across California, they contend the plan to cover this ranch land with a huge solar project would harm a unique landscape and its wildlife.

From the Bay Area to the Mojave Desert, green energy supporters are frustrated that a state that wants to lead the green revolution is facing roadblocks.

Peterson, a former vice president of Goldman Sachs, looked across the Panoche Valley last week and noted its attributes.

It sits 20 miles from the nearest town. It has 90 percent of the solar intensity of the Mojave Desert. Five willing sellers, mostly longtime ranching families, have signed options to sell his company 18,000 acres. And huge transmission lines run through the site, negating the need to build the kind of costly and controversial new power lines that have stalled similar projects. "From our standpoint, this is a perfect place," he said. "If not here, where?"

The project would produce 420 megawatts of electricity, roughly the same as a medium-sized natural gas power plant, and enough to power 315,000 homes.

Meanwhile, in the UK, transmission line costs are provided added friction to getting offshore wind and tidal power projects underway - Wave of protest over tidal power charges.
Plans to build Europe’s biggest wave farm off the coast of Scotland are under threat after energy firms threatened to pull out over “unfair” charges to connect to the national grid, a lobby group has claimed.

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) said that some of the 20 firms involved in the project, in the Pentland Firth, have said that they may withdraw in protest at the charges imposed by Ofgem, the energy regulator.

Under the charging scheme, electricity generators are forced to pay more the farther away they are from the national grid and urban centres.

According to the council — an independent body that represents 1,200 businesses, trade unions and local authorities — Scottish generators pay about 40% of total UK transmission charges, but produce just 12% of the country’s renewable energy. It claims they pay £100m a year more than their “fair share”.

The threat of firms pulling out will be a blow to Alex Salmond, who has claimed that the farm could transform the Pentland Firth into “the Saudi Arabia of marine power”. The first minister used his new-year message to call for a cut in connection charges, which he claimed were preventing Scotland from becoming the “energy powerhouse of Europe”.

The SCDI has raised its concerns in a policy report for ministers that urges Ofgem to consider a flat-rate scheme, irrespective of location.

“Wave and tidal companies involved in the Pentland Firth process face higher generation costs than established technologies such as onshore wind,” the SCDI submission states. “They have emphasised that without projects remaining viable they will not proceed and the locational charging regime could destroy viability.”

Gareth Williams, the head of policy at the SCDI and author of the report, added: “We are concerned that higher charges are proposed for renewables projects in Scotland where there are the best resources. Onshore wind projects already face far higher transmission charges and members in the marine energy industry have warned that higher connection charges will become a disincentive for investment in developing offshore wind, wave and tidal projects in Scotland.”

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