Solar Ranch pros and cons

The devil is in the details in Los Angeles Department of Power and Water’s 1200 acre Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch proposal. This post is about a few of the tidbits not included in the DEIR (I, II, & III) or that the consultants have blatantly come to the wrong conclusion about.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of utility scale solar power like this project, BUT only when it is done in the right place and is actually Designed (with a big D) by folks like landscape architectures – not just engineered with no poetry like DWP seems to be doing.

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Scenic impact

The proximity to Manzanar National Historic Site is the biggest boondoggle and the source of most opposition. There will be SUBSTANTIAL impacts on ‘scenic vistas’ no mater where the project is built (topic AE-1, AE-3 & AE-4). The viewshed analysis from Manzanar and 395 are pretty sloppy – note how the parking lot dominates the foreground. This isn’t the view that most visitors will be offended by.

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Plus this part of the Owens Valley has great dark skies with minimal artificial lights near by – the solar ranch will substantially damage one of my favorite star gazing locations even if they try to limit light trespass.

D7K_4069

That bright spot is Lone Pine from the Manzanar Airport.

D7K_4397

The night sky from the southern alternative site, October 2012

Water

Biggest environmental issue is the impact of pumping an additional 10 acre-feet of groundwater to clean the photovoltaic panels. So how much water will be needed during construction for the concrete foundations and to control dust???

Alternative sites

To equal the 200mw capacity of the Solar Ranch, it would take just 20,000 – 40,000 residential installations at 5-10kw each. Since there are 665,992 single family houses in LA per the census, this just means that 17% of houses need to install solar panels to replace the Solar Ranch.
-Or-
The 1200 acres ‘needed’ by DWP can easily be found around Los Angeles on city owned property (for example, the Whitnall Highway R.O.W is about 120 acres)

So the statement that distributed PVs are ‘Infeasible under existing power system operational capabilities without compromising system integrity and safety’ is to kindly state, BS.

Shadows from the Sierra Nevadas and the Inyo Mountains aren’t covered. This diagram was generated by the University of Oregon Solar Path Calculator and Google Earth.

Solar Path and Shadows

Solar Path and rough estimate of Shadows.

Sun Path_Page_1

Looking at the insolation aka how cloudy it is, the Owens Valley has pristine blue skies about 25% of the time. Okay, this is using weather data for Bishop which is the nearest NOAA weather station, not for the region near Independence/Manzanar. This is a screen shot of UCLA’s Climate Consultant 5.2, using data from the US Department of Energy.

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[Gotta get to bed tonight, I'll try to update this from the DWP meeting on Saturday or after the fact when I get a chance]

Sublime Solar Farm

Photographer Jamey Stillings documents the sublime of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System for Wired.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com


Aerial view of Solar Field One at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) on October 27, 2012. Photo shows completed tower construction and heliostat (pairs of mirrors) installation. Mojave Desert, CA

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 8.04.10 PM

Some of his photos evoking the Nazca lines or Michael Heizer’s Complex – this is quite the documentation of the infrastructural sublime.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com

Clark Mountain and ground work for future power block of Solar Field One. January 14, 2011.

View north of Ivanpah Solar showing all three solar fields with heliostat installation complete in Solar Field One in the foreground. October 27, 2012.

There is a remarkable amount of intact vegetation beneath the heliostats – making me wonder if it is possible to design a low-impact solar farm?

Installed heliostats in Solar Field One and adjacent section of undisturbed desert terrain of the site’s alluvial fan. January 6, 2012.

Installed heliostats in “safe” or resting position. June 2, 2012

Workers install a heliostat on a pylon in Solar Field One. June 4, 2012.

More of Jamey Stillings pics at Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com. and Stillings’ own website.

The dark side of solar

The math isn’t adding up for the local economics of solar farms as reported by the LAtimes.

BrightSource Energy’s $2.7-billion Hidden Hills solar power plant in Inyo County was  first estimated to boost the County;s general fund 17%. But this didn’t factor in the federal solar tax exclusion on property. Fewer than 10 local workers get permanent jobs — just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents, who are likely to spend their money in Nevada – not Inyo County’s population center in Owens Valley. Improvements to public infrastructure like roads would cost the county $11 million to $12 million. Then in perpetuity would be  nearly $2 million a year in additional public safety and other services paid by tax payers. This reality contrasts with the rosy picture painted by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, who promised 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions, generating wages of nearly $550 million over the life of the project contributing more than $300 million in local and state tax revenues. Not much discussion of the ecological side in the article beyond the expected higher property values and decreased public access to land as habitat mitigation areas are cordoned off.

“We’ve got county residents living in cargo containers near the solar site, seniors living in trailer parks on fixed incomes — they all manage to pay their 1% property tax fee,” said Kevin Carunchio, the county’s administrative official. “Nobody is outright against these projects on ideological grounds or land-use principles. We don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.”

Then there is the visual impacts:

“Residents will live as close as 600 feet from a heliostat field replete with approximately 170,000 mirrors encircling two 750-foot towers as their neighbor.”

BrightSource maintained that the power plant would not create a significant visual impact. Instead the project has been pitched as a potential tourist attraction, with its twin 70-story towers envisioned as a magnet drawing sightseers to the Pahrump Valley.

Carunchio — who is open to most plans to bring attention to the region — is skeptical.

“I can’t believe that people will drive the long way to Death Valley just to look at the Eye of Mordor,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Mojave:

“Southern California is going to become the home to the state’s ability to meet its solar goals,” said Gerry Newcombe, public works director for San Bernardino County. “That’s great, but where are the benefits to the county?”

in San Bernadino County, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project will be proving a $377,000 annual payment to the county in lieu of taxes. This doesn’t cover the public safety costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to “crush” opponents of solar projects. At the launch of a solar farm near Sacramento, the governor pledged: “It’s not easy. There are gonna be screw-ups. There are gonna be bankruptcies. There’ll be indictments and there’ll be deaths. But we’re gonna keep going — and nothing’s gonna stop me.” …

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said [Riverside] county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Solar development isn’t looking as bright as it was – but just contrast this with permanent destruction of groundwater, nearby resident’s health, and green house gas emissions of fracking and the negative impacts of solar still make it the best energy source (other than conservation) we have.  The best place for solar is on roofs and disturbed lands – not intact desert habitat There is a place for large utility scale solar energy development, but it needs to be done wisely, not quickly.

Solar power plants burden counties that host them – latimes.com.

Cellulosic dawn

Ken Childress for KiOR

The decades-long pursuit of fermenting woody plants into fuel aka cellulosic biofuels is now a commercial reality with two pilot plants just opened and more under construction. This renewable fuel – not made from corn or other food crops – has one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide compared to petroleum-based fuels. If those forests get, then it could even be claimed that cellulosic fuels are carbon neutral. Of course, there is the ecological footprint of chopping down forests for energy – but that is a debate that is yet to come.

In Columbus, Miss., KiOR has spent more than $200 million on a plant that is supposed to mix shredded wood waste with a patented catalyst, powdered to talcumlike consistency. Its process does in a few seconds what takes nature millions of years: removes the oxygen from the biomass and converts the other main ingredients, hydrogen and carbon, into molecules that can then be processed into gasoline and diesel fuel…

And Ineos, a European oil and chemical company, is putting the final touches on a plant in Vero Beach, Fla., that would cook wood and woody garbage until they broke down into tiny molecules of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Those molecules would be pumped into a giant steel tank, where bacteria would eat them and excrete ethanol. – NYTimes.com

KiOR’s Columbus, MS Plant

Ineos Vera Beach, FL Plant

http://grist.org/list/map-shows-avalanche-of-cellulosic-ethanol-projects-on-the-way/

via Alternative Fuels’ Long-Delayed Promise Might Be Near Fruition – NYTimes.com.

Fall mid-review

The public is invited to attend the fall mid-review presentations for LA301L and LA401L at Cal Poly Pomona on Monday, October 29th.

301L teams are identifying culturally relevant sites along the LA Aqueduct and discussing the landscape character. 401L students have mapped the water-energy nexus for Los Angeles and are selecting sites to enhance the resilience of the Aqueduct (plus there is a team who are hoping to win the EPA’s Campus RainWorks Competition).

Guest Jurors

  • 301L: Andrew Kanzler, Perry Cardoza
  • 401L: Robert Lamb, Jonathan Linkus

Cal Poly central campus map [pdf]

Please send a note if you are interested in being a guest juror for either mid-review session or final presentations (November 28th)

Sustainable Energy Landscapes

 

I’m really excited to announce the publication on October 19th of Sustainable Energy Landscapes: Designing, Planning, and Development, (edited by Sven Stremke and Andy van den Dobbelsteen) that includes my Chapter 21, written with the help of my Zero+ Campus Project’s colleagues at the University of Minnesota.

In the near future the appearance and spatial organization of urban and rural landscapes will be strongly influenced by the generation of renewable energy. One of the critical tasks will be the re-integration of these sustainable energy landscapes into the existing environment—which people value and want to preserve—in a socially fair, environmentally sound, and economically feasible manner. Accordingly, Sustainable Energy Landscapes: Designing, Planning, and Development focuses on the municipal and regional scale, where energy-conscious interventions are effective, and stakeholders can participate actively in the transition process.

This book presents state-of-the-art knowledge in the exciting new field of sustainable energy landscapes. It bridges the gap between theory and fundamental research on the one hand, and practice and education on the other. The chapters—written by experts in their fields—present a selection of interdisciplinary, cutting-edge projects from across the world, illustrating the inspiring challenge of developing sustainable energy landscapes. They include unique case studies from Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and the United States.

The editors and team of contributing authors aim to inspire readers, providing a comprehensive overview of sustainable energy landscapes, including principles, concepts, theories, and examples. The book describes various methods, such as energy potential mapping and heat mapping, multicriteria decision analysis, energy landscape visualization, and employing exergy and carbon models. It addresses how to quantify the impact of energy transition both on landscape quality and energy economy, issues of growing importance. The text infuses readers with enthusiasm to promote further research and action toward the important goal of building energy landscapes for a sustainable future.

The full marketing announcement: K14201_NTI FL [pdf]

 

Robert Bryce lies again about coal

Robert Bryce, of the Manhattan Institute, follows up his pro-coal 2011 propaganda in the NYTimes (see my earlier rebuttal here) with an op-ed in the LAtimes. Here is my complete comment (which happens to be 576 characters too-long to have been posted in full):

This is not the first time Mr. Bryce has provided misleading propaganda for the carbon industry (or maybe he should just be labeled an anti-solar lobbyist) – so shame on the LATimes for publishing his piece.  His June 2011 op-ed in the NYTs was also filled with similarly misleading statistics that are clearly slanted to cast a more favorable light on coal (the statistics chosen when discussing this topic must compare life cycle costs/total costs/energy return on energy invested/energy per unit of CO2, not just the direct costs).

The biggest (pun intended) flaw in his argument is downplaying the physical footprint of coal: ‘the mine covers just 80 square miles, while domestic wind projects alone cover about 9,400 square miles.’ This is comparing apples with an turd.

That coal mine may ‘just’ be 80 square miles, but only citing the mine’s area as the total footprint of coal willfully ignores the facilities and infrastructure off-site, the hundreds of square miles covered by coal ash lagoons, the massive quantity of water needed to clean the coal and produce the steam (the energy sector uses more water than agriculture does in the US), and the global impact of emissions from burning the coal including the CO2, SOx, NOx, mercury, and acid rain that continue to devastate ecosystems around the world.

Yes, the wind industry may currently have 9,400 square miles of wind farms, but cumulative footprint of the turbines, crane pads, and road are just fractions of the entire project area.  There is nothing about a wind farm that destroys the ecological or economic productivity of the landscape – mine reclamation has never managed to restore the lost ecological vitality after coal (or tar sands) extraction. Then there is the energy return on energy invested – you can only extract coal once – while wind and solar are perpetual energy sources. LAGI has lots more comparison of energy footprints if you want to further dig into this topic.

Coal is NOT essential for progress, but certainly it is essential to the preventable climate change caused catastrophic disruption of our global civilization.

Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project

Richard A. Muller shares the findings of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project in an NYTimes Op-Ed. Dr. Muller was a vocal critic of the IPCC and earlier climate change research, but the project finds that human carbon emissions are the entire cause of observed change in the climate over the past 250 years! (The IPCC only stated the link was for the past 50 years.)

…studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off)…

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic - NYTimes.com

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

So what do we do next? My money and scholarly efforts are focused on developing site and municipal scale solutions to reduce emissions, increase energy/locational efficiency, and improve the resilience of our cities. But what about the bottom billion and the majority of humanity that isn’t historically responsible for climate change (yet will bear the brunt of the impacts) – there are plenty of efforts that working to improve their standard of living (health, education, food/energy security) while reducing our global footprint. Policy is a huge factor, but don’t count on either national or global consensus or action – the polical/economic forces of the status quo have too much to loose (see ‘Canada’s oil, the world’s carbon‘) – humanity has too much to loose by inaction.

More findings

  1. Berkeley Earth Temperature Averaging Process (commonly referred to as the “Methods” paper) and its appendix
  2. Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average
  3. Earth Atmospheric Land Surface Temperature and Station Quality in the United States
  4. Decadal Variations in the Global Atmospheric Land Temperatures
  5. A New Estimate of the Average Earth Surface Land Temperature Spanning 1753 to 2011

http://berkeleyearth.org & their dataset

via The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic – NYTimes.com.

Solar Southwest

The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS) from by the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy’s EERE have just issued the final report for public comments that identifies 17 zones covering 445 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert appropriate for fast-tracking large-scale industrial solar energy development along with the mitigation strategies, policies and regulations. If all the sites get developed, they could generate 24,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity by 2030. (But what about their water consumption?)

Original PDF [18mb] here

 As significant as defining appropriate sites for development, the Solar PEIS defines exclusion areas like the Ivanpah Valley on the CA/NV border where BrightSource Energy is already building two projects.

Thirty-two categories of lands are proposed for exclusion from solar development through the Final Solar PEIS (see Final Solar PEIS, Chapter 2). The exclusions proposed include (1) explicit exclusions that will be delineated in the Solar PEIS ROD by a land base that would not change except by future land use plan amendment; and (2) implicit exclusions that will be defined in the Solar PEIS ROD by the presence or absence of a specific resource or condition where the land base may change over time (e.g., critical habitat). Implicit exclusions will be determined at the time of application for individual solar ROWs, and based on information in applicable land use plans as amended, Species’ Recovery Plans, or similar planning or guidance documents, and verified by site-specific information as necessary.

For the purposes of the Solar PEIS and its associated NEPA analysis, the BLM has mapped and estimated the acreage for proposed exclusions in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Data were available to map the following exclusion categories:

  1. BLM-administered lands where development is prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation or Executive Order (i.e., lands in the National Landscape Conservation System [NLCS]),
  2. Lands having slopes greater than 5%,
  3. Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day,
  4. BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,
  5. Critical habitat for USFWS designated threatened and endangered species,
  6. BLM Right-of-Way Exclusion and Avoidance Areas,
  7. BLM No Surface Occupancy Areas,
  8. Special Recreation Management Areas (note these were not excluded in the State of Nevada or in a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona), and
  9. Greater sage-grouse habitat in California, Nevada, and Utah; Gunnison’s sage-grouse habitat in Utah; and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Flat Tailed Horned Lizard habitat, and Mojave Ground Squirrel habitat in California.

As desert tortoises are the charismatic megafauna most impacted by solar farms and a favorite topic of infrascape design, I couldn’t resist sharing this picture accompanying the LATimes article on the PEIS:

Mark Boster/LAtimes

Drought induced Blackouts

Water energy nexus

The water-energy nexus goes both ways. It takes energy to supply potable water to our homes, and it takes massive amounts of water to produce the energy we use. Prof. Micheal Webber of UT Austin wrote an op-ed for the NYTime about the dangers faced by the climate change induced drought the US is experiencing.

Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing…

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture…

energy use by sector

New carbon emissions standards can also help save water. A plan proposed by the Obama administration (requiring new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour generated) would encourage utilities to choose less carbon- and water-intensive fuels. Conventional coal plants, which are very thirsty, exceed the standards proposed by the president. But relatively clean, and water-lean, power plants that use wind, solar panels and natural gas combined cycle, would meet them. Thus, by enforcing CO2 limits, a lot of water use can be avoided.

Drought induced blackouts

via Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout? – NYTimes.com.

Related in the NYTimes – more reporting on how the weird weather is causing unanticipated failures at power plants, transportation networks, and water system.

Coal’s retreat

The latest newsletter from Architecture 2030 shares great news about progress decarbonizating the US energy and building sectors from the Energy Information Agency‘s Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

The report provides a glimmer of hope that the world will experience a ‘carbon spring’ (led by architects and the building sector) where the tyrants King Coal and Big Oil are deposed before it’s too late for the climate and the mountains of Appalachia. The flip side of the drama (and the new faustian bargain being made) is the increase in fracking that is providing all the natural gas that is our Hamlet in this story and replacing coal as the fuel of choice for electricity generation.

The rest of this post is from Architecture 2030:

In May 2012, the New York Times reported that “Coal and electric utilities, long allied, are starting to split. More than 100 of the 500 or so U.S. coal-burning power plants are expected to be shut down in the next few years. While coal still provides about a third of the nation’s power, just four years ago it was providing nearly half.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) there was a nationwide decrease of 22.8% in net electricity generation from coal between April 2011 and April 2012. The reasons given in the press for the decline of U.S. coal consumption include new pollution rules, fuel switching, and environmental pressure.

The unstated, yet requisite, driver of this trend is the dramatically declining demand for energy in the Building Sector due to slower growth in the U.S. building stock and increases in building energy efficiency.

The Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012), prepared by the EIA, presents long-term projections of energy demand based on results from EIA’s National Energy Modeling System. AEO 2012 concludes “The rate of growth in energy use slows over the projection period, reflecting moderate population growth, an extended economic recovery, and increasing energy efficiency in end-use applications.” Visualizing AEO Building Sector data in a graphic format clearly illustrates the key drivers of the recent trend in U.S. energy infrastructure planning.

According to AEO 2012, if the ‘best available demand technologies*’ are incorporated, the projected energy consumption for residential and commercial buildings in 2030 is expected to drop 12% below 2005 levels; CO2 emissions are expected to drop 21.8% below 2005 levels.

AEO projections do not include sustainable planning applications or incorporate passive heating and cooling, natural ventilation, daylighting, or spatial configuration and site design strategies. With the growing number of architects and planners incorporating these strategies to meet the 2030 Challenge targets, actual energy consumption and emissions in the Building Sector will drop substantially lower.
All of this is particularly good news because the alternative of continuing coal use is rather dire. To quote from a previous E-News Bulletin:

“The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene [i.e. the world as we know it],…is to rapidly phase out coal emissions…”

Note: Seventy-six (76%) percent of all electricity produced in the U.S. is consumed by buildings.

*    Best available demand technologies – new equipment purchases are limited to the most efficient versions of technologies available in the residential and commercial buildings sectors.