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

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Buffalo Commons II

The NYTimes discusses the impacts of 71 purebred Bison returning to the great plains of Montana after a 140 year absence. American Prairie Reserve and the Nation Wildlife Federation are the groups behind this effort.

But with several groups now navigating a complex and contentious path to return bison to these plains, agribusiness is fighting back. Many farmers and ranchers fear that bison, particularly those from Yellowstone, might be mismanaged and damage private property, and worry that they would compete for grass with their own herds…

“Within this sea of agriculture there is room for small islands of conservation,” said Sean Gerrity, president of the American Prairie Reserve, the charity that brought the group of genetically pure bison back to a pasture just north of the refuge…

The bison debate has dredged up old tensions between tribes and their neighbors. Before Ms. Greybull, a Sioux, spoke in favor of the animals last fall at a fractious meeting in Glasgow, dozens of farmers and ranchers walked out in protest…

“I took a lot of arrows for this, but it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Schweitzer said. “If you want to get into a fistfight in Montana, go into a bar and share your opinion about bison or wolves.”

See also: Buffalo Commons I

Buffalo Commons

Originating with two social scientists out of New Jersey, DE Popper & FJ Popper,  back in 1987, the concept for re-wilding the great plains to establish the ‘Buffalo Commons‘ [pdf] has been met with skepticism if not outright rejection by most of the region’s residents. As the population across much of the western range drops below the 6 people per square mile threshold of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier theory, it is worth reconsidering the status of The Far West to The Midlands as Colin Woodward calls them. Perhaps we can also restore the traditional territories of the Plains Indians as the buffalo return too.

2000 population map legend (no 2010 census maps are available yet):

  • 0-1 (white)
  • 1-4 (yellow)
  • 5-9 (yellow-green)
  • 10-24 (green)
  • 25-49 (teal)
  • 50-99 (dark teal)
  • 100-249 (blue)
  • 250-66,995 (dark blue)

If fences are one of the essential infrastructure of the late 19th century plains, removing them opens up the question of how they originally shaped the rural landscape that we now know. Of course, the original infrastructure was and Jefferson’s Public Land Survey System, followed by wagon trails (as I’m not sure if the game trails/indian trails can be seen as discreet systems separate from the landscape matrix), then the Transcontinental Railroad before the interstate freeways system and oil pipelines emerged.

Woodward’s American map

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OWENS LAKE Symbiosis: infrastructural ruralism

To wrap up the collective reading of my chapter, ‘Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake’ from The Infrastructural City organized by Mammoth, here is my 2005 MLA/MArch University of Pennsylvania thesis project. #mammothbook

Thesis

What is infrastructure’s cultural role in the rural landscape?

  • How to adapt static large-scale civil projects into dynamic emergent systems?
  • How to adapt single use infrastructure to multiple uses?
  • How to transform infrastructure into an evident contributor of place?

Definitions

RURAL: places that human activities are sufficiently present to be obvious, but with a low population; contrasted to wilderness where the traces are few and far between. [http://roadless.fs.fed.us]

SYMBIOSIS: Two or more dissimilar organisms living together in close association with one another.

PARASITISM, where one of the organisms harms the other(s),

MUTUALISM, where association is advantageous to all

and
COMMENSALISM,
where association is advantageous to one organism but doesn’t affect other organism(s). [www.ucbiotech.org/glossary]

Project goals:

Design a water containment system (levees, dams, channels, and earthworks) to create a low-salinity/deeper pool in the lakebed, fed by the Owens River & mitigation.

Nearby, design structures & access network for the inhabitation and the intimate experience of the lake (observation, sleeping, eating, et cetera) that engage the landscape and visitors.

PROGRAMATIC USE:

Ephemeral habitation of the Owens Lakeshore and the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Users:

Foreign Tourists
Fishermen
Hikers/Naturalists
Hang Gliders/Sail Planers
Cultural Heritage Tourists
Birdwatchers
Travelers

Only the Snowy Plover is accommodated within the current mitigation process. No other animal/plant has been considered.

How to make this place useable by people and other critters?

Summary

Develop an Infrastructure that has a cultural role & multiple uses
Mitigate the impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct:

  • Reclaim Owens Lake through partitioning the basin into a brackish lake and a hypersaline lake
  • Tie Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct together with a system for ephemeral habitation and occupation

______

Here is the November draft of my thesis proposal that was approved by my Committee.

The final presentation...

Design

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